Why did Ireland abstain from UN vote calling for Gaza inquiry?

AUDIO: Ireland has been criticised for failing to vote on the resolution

Ireland has been criticised for abstaining from a vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday which called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on current human rights issues in Gaza.

The motion also calls on all parties to ensure respect for international law. It was adopted with 29 votes in favour and 17 abstentions.

Ireland was one of those who abstained from voting. Only the United States voted against.

It came as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says there is a "strong possibility" Israel is violating international law in Gaza.

Navanethem Pillay also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Hamas into Israel.

Ms Pillay said Israel's punitive house demolitions and killing of Palestinians raised serious concerns of excessive use of force by the Jewish state.

"It is imperative that Israel, Hamas and all Palestinian armed groups strictly abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This entails applying the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives; proportionality; and precautions in attack".

"Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity" she said.

Ireland's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Patricia O'Brien, outlined the Irish position on the situation in Gaza and Israel.

"Ireland condemns both the firing of missiles from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups, and the killing of hundreds of civilians in military attacks by Israel on targets in Gaza which fail to respect the requirement under international law for any military action to be proportionate and discriminate. It is clear to us that neither side is paying adequate regard to the cost of their actions on innocent civilians" she said.

"We have been here before, discussing exactly the same thing. Ireland has repeatedly underlined that no ceasefire will last without a serious political effort to address the causes of the disastrous situation in Gaza. It is imperative to bring about an end of the restrictions imposed on the people by the continuing Israeli blockade and the general closing off of Gaza".

"This should begin with the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1860. The continued absence for people in Gaza of any political or economic perspective for the future is a breeding ground for extremist action".

"In view of the very high casualty rate and the many allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law arising from the current conflict, we would support the conduct of an appropriate investigation into breaches of international law" she added.

More than 710 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in the past 16 days of fighting. But why did Ireland - along with other EU member states - abstain from voting on the resolution?

Newstalk reporter Shona Murray explained why.