Hizbollah row may lead to Irish cabinet split

Alan Shatter: ‘not valid’ to differentiate between HIzbollah wings

Alan Shatter: ‘not valid’ to differentiate between HIzbollah wings

The Irish Defence Minister may have created a potential domestic dispute with government colleagues after suggesting it was “not valid” to differentiate between Hizbollah’s political and military wings.

Alan Shatter appeared to depart from government policy by questioning the separation of the Iranian-backed terror group’s wings by a number of European governments

The Irish government has yet to outline its position on whether Hizbollah should be proscribed by the Europe Union.

Mr Shatter, who is also Minister for Equality and Justice and is the most senior Jewish politician in Ireland, began a tour of the Middle East this week by visiting Irish troops stationed in southern Lebanon.

He told Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper that it was not possible to make a “valid distinction” between Hizbollah wings, and said: “I think Hizbollah is a single organisation. It doesn’t reflect... the structure of the IRA where the IRA, or Provisional IRA, was a military wing and Sinn Fein was a political wing.

“Whether Hizbollah would be named a terrorist organisation or not from a European perspective is a matter that remains to be considered by European justice ministers.”

David Cameron last month called on the British Jewish community to help him persuade the EU to proscribe Hizbollah in its entirety.

At the moment the EU classifies Hizbollah as a social welfare organisation. To proscribe Hizbollah requires consensus among all 27 EU members. The move would freeze the group’s accounts and funding, hitting its European operations and terrorist activities.

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry declined to comment on whether Mr Shatter’s views were a departure from the official government position.

A department spokesman said: “If there is a formal proposal at EU level to designate Hizbollah, then Ireland as current EU president will convene a meeting of the relevant working group in Brussels and ensure that all necessary consideration is given to the proposal and to the evidence provided.

“It would be for the EU Foreign Affairs Council to decide on what action to take, based on a recommendation from the working group. The government has not taken a position on any such proposal.”

Mr Shatter was due to meet Israeli counterparts, including Tzipi Livni, during his tour, as well as Palestinian Authority representatives.

The minister lost his seat in parliament in 2002 and has made a remarkable political comeback since then.

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 15 2013