Wednesday 21 March 2018

Minister refuses to disclose Ireland's vote on Saudi Arabia UN seat

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Picture: Tom Burke
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan Picture: Tom Burke
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan became embroiled in controversy today when he refused to confirm if the Government voted for Saudi Arabia securing a seat on the UN Commission for the Status of Women.

The minister’s silence comes as Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien of "hiding behind his officials" on the issue and demanding he clarify the matter.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace has also rowed in on the debacle, saying Irish people are entitled to know whether Ireland supported Saudi Arabia.

Speaking after giving the opening address at the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin Castle, the minister said there has been a long standing tradition, policy and practice that how any country votes in the context of a UN election is not disclosed.

“I believe it's important that the integrity of the functioning of the United Nations is preserved here, so this long standing tradition will be observed in this regard by Ireland,” he said.

Asked if he was concerned that Saudi Arabia should have this position on a commission to do with women's rights given their track record, added to the comments from the Human Rights Watch advocacy group that this was highly reprehensible, the minister said he was “very concerned at the status of women in Saudi Arabia”.

“On a visit to Saudi Arabia just before Christmas I raised the matter specifically with the foreign minister. We discussed how the status of women could be progressed and improved,” he stated.

“Ireland has a long standing and proud record in the area of women’s rights and children’s rights. In fact this UN committee will be chaired by Ireland, it will be Ireland setting the agenda. Ireland looks forward to continuing to make a positive contribution on the equality agenda,” the minister added.

Yet he still would not say, given that stance, whether or not it would be a strange decision if Ireland had voted for Saudi Arabia to have a seat on the commission.

“I’m not disclosing,” he said.

Minister Flanagan also rejected Darragh O’Brien’s calls for him to say what way the government voted.

“Darragh O’Brien will know that the Fianna Fáil governments over the years have also acknowledged the long standing policy, tradition and practice of the UN. I don't recall any instance in which a Fianna Fáil government disclosed the manner in which it voted.”

Speaking on RTE radio this morning Mr O'Brien said the minister needs to "tell the truth" about the vote, and said Fianna Fáil would insist it gets answers.

He said women in Saudi Arabia were "effectively second class citizens in their own country".

Mr O’Brien said he would raise the matter in the Dáil today and also with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The controversial vote last month has already resulted in Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel making a public apology for supporting the Saudis.

According to the UN, the Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality.

Saudi Arabia last month successfully campaigned for a seat on the commission, securing 47 votes, at least five of which are believed to have come from European countries.

Human Rights Watch has said that Saudi Arabia's election is an "affront to the mission of the commission itself, and a rebuke to Saudi women".

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