Field is also chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) and advises Ireland's leading Catholic clerics on social issues.

   

Family reunification

 

"We are calling for an end to restrictions on family reunification, and an end to humiliating treatment of people at checkpoints," Field said in an ICJSA statement ahead of a meeting with Dermot Ahern, the Irish foreign minister.

   

Field said restrictions, which Israel says protect it against Palestinian attacks, also make it difficult for Christians to worship at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

   

"In effect, the communities of Bethlehem and East Jerusalem are forced to live divided by a 25-foot wall," Field said.

    

"We also intend to raise with prime minister Ahern the intolerable situation that is the daily lot of the Palestinians who live in Gaza."

   

Israel dealings

 

The ICJSA's statement also questioned the way in which the European Union handled its dealings with Israel.

   

"While we welcome co-operation between the EU and its neighbouring countries, nevertheless such co-operation should not be at the expense of a large segment of the indigenous population - in this case the Palestinians."

 

There is a long history of support for Palestinians in Ireland, particularly among parties such as Sinn Fein, which equate their own fight to end British rule in Ireland with the desire by Palestinians for their own state.