Irish ambassador called to Israeli ministry in ‘overreaction’ to Varadkar remark

Leo Varadkar said an ‘an innocent child who was lost has now been found’ after Hamas released nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand.

Cillian Sherlock
Monday 27 November 2023 15:00 GMT
Leo Varadkar was accused of legitimising terror (Jane Barlow/PA)
Leo Varadkar was accused of legitimising terror (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Ireland’s ambassador in Tel Aviv has met with a senior official in the Israeli foreign ministry after the Irish premier was accused of legitimising terror in a statement about the release of a Hamas hostage, a move described by Dublin as an “overreaction”.

It comes after Israel took issue with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying “an innocent child who was lost has now been found” after Hamas released nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand.

Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, said the child had been kidnapped and the comments were an attempt to “legitimise and normalise terror”.

Mr Cohen posted on X at Mr Varadkar: “Mr Prime Minister, It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check!

“Emily Hand was not ‘lost’, she was kidnapped by a terror organisation worse than Isis that murdered her stepmother.

“Emily and more than 30 other Israeli children were taken hostage by Hamas, and you @LeoVaradkar are trying to legitimise and normalise terror. Shame on you!”

Irish cabinet ministers have described Israel’s decision to summon and reprimand Ireland’s ambassador Sonya McGuinness an “overreaction”.

On Sunday Mr Varadkar said: “I call for all hostages to be released without any conditions and always have done so. And the Irish Government has worked very hard over the last few weeks, with Egypt, with Qatar, with the Red Cross and also with Israel.”

He told RTE that the most important thing was that Emily was at home with her family, adding “that’s all that really matters”.

Ms McGuinness met with the Israeli foreign ministry’s director-general for Europe, Daniel Meron, in Jerusalem on Monday.

According to a statement released after the meeting, Ms McGuinness presented the Israeli foreign ministry with the full statements issued by Mr Varadkar and deputy premier Micheal Martin following the release of Emily Hand.

A spokesperson said: “These statements referenced the traumatic experience endured by Emily and her family, reiterated thanks to international partners who had facilitated her freeing from captivity and called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

“In this context, Ambassador McGuinness expressed surprise on the part of the Irish Government that these expressions of evident relief at Emily’s release had been publicly criticised by the Israeli Government.”

The ambassador also reiterated Ireland’s “unequivocal position” that all hostages held by Hamas should be immediately and unconditionally released.

She also discussed the importance of fully respecting international humanitarian law and getting “desperately needed humanitarian supplies to civilians in Gaza”.

Ms McGuinness said that the current truce should become a sustainable humanitarian ceasefire and that the international community must focus on a pathway to deliver a two-state solution, which can allow the people of Israel and Palestine to live in “peace and security as neighbours”.

Earlier, Ireland’s further education minister Simon Harris said Israel’s decision to summon the Irish ambassador for a reprimand was “a bit of an overreaction”.

Speaking to RTE radio on Monday, Mr Harris said Ireland is “utterly elated” at the child’s release.

“This is a complete distraction. Emily Hand, the little girl, is free. She’s been 50 days in captivity.”

Asked if the relationship with Israel had been further strained, he said: “Israel has decided to summon a number of ambassadors from a number of European countries in recent days, it’s their prerogative to do that.

“I think it is a bit of an overreaction, being honest, and I think the Taoiseach’s statement was extraordinarily clear. The main thing is Emily Hand is back with her family.”

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys also described Israel’s response as an overreaction.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar’s position on violence in the Middle East is “crystal clear”.

Mrs McDonald told the BBC she understands the Taoiseach’s position.

She said: “The child, young Emily, was kidnapped, she was held hostage and she has now been released to her family, and other hostages, and of course Palestinian women and children that were also held under administrative detention.

“I think, in fairness, the Taoiseach’s position has been very consistent and very clear on these matters.

“Remember that Gaza has had 50 days of bombardment, the place has been levelled, we are faced with thousands and thousands of deaths, thousands and thousands of innocent children dead.

“I think we should not play to any move to distract from that reality and the absolute necessity that we have a permanent ceasefire and a process of peace and dialogue.

“The language, that’s a matter for himself. I understand the Taoiseach’s position, I think it is crystal clear and, in fairness to him, I think he has been consistent on those matters.”

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