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Tuesday 22 October 2019

Castlebridge man discusses controversial Bill at United Nations HQ

Conor O’Neill discusses the Occupied Territories Bill at UNHQ
Conor O’Neill discusses the Occupied Territories Bill at UNHQ

Simon Bourke

A Castlebridge man has spoken passionately about the conflict in Palestine during a heated debate in the headquarters of the UN in New York.

Conor O'Neill (29), who works as a researcher in the Oireachteas, was discussing a new piece of legislation which, if passed, would alter Ireland's commercial links to countries where there are human rights issues, of which Israel is one.

Flanked by Senator Frances Black, Mr O'Neill outlined the details of the Occupied Territories Bill in front of delegates and ambassadors from UN states.

'The Bill had come on to the UN's radar and they invited us over to present it to them, they called it the 'Irish model', or the 'Irish example', and something which could be adapted in other parliaments,' Mr O'Neill explains.

Having studied political science in Trinity, Mr O'Neill worked in Brussels for a human rights organisation, before returning to Ireland to work in the Oireachteas two years ago. And since returning, he has been heavily involved in the drafting of this legisation, which has already passed through the Seanad and is awaiting a further vote in the Dáil.

The situation in Palestine, and the plight of those living in the West Bank, is something which Mr O'Neill has first-hand experience of. 'The reality on the ground is so tough, I went to Gaza and the West Bank last year and got a chance to meet people living there and organisations working there. It's difficult to see the reality on the ground and not be moved by it,' he said.

This experience enabled Mr O'Neill, who has worked with closely with people on both sides of the conflict, to overcome any nerves or fears he may have had when it came to addressing the UN earlier this month.

'If you're lucky and privileged enough to get an opportunity to speak somewhere like that you have a responsibility to do your job and take it seriously. I was conscious of the fact that all of the people we're working with, who for example in Gaza and the West Bank don't have the capacity to leave, they can't fly, they can't get a visa.'

Hopeful that this Bill will soon be passed into Irish law, Mr O'Neill said he is currently working on another piece of legislation which deals with the human rights of refugees in Ireland.

And the former student of St Peter's College attributes much of his success to one of his former teachers from the school. 'My history teacher, Cathal O'Gara, was brilliant, he always pushed us to take an interest in bigger issues and world affairs.'

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