Shane Ross: We will keep asking until we get an answer on Saudi vote

Transport Minister Shane Ross has said the public is “entitled” to know how Ireland voted on Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

There has been widespread international criticism of the vote to give the Arab state a seat on the commission, given its poor record in gender equality.

The Department of Foreign Affairs refuses to state how Ireland voted and it is understood it was not discussed at cabinet prior to the vote.

Mr Ross yesterday said he will be demanding that Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan say whether Ireland was one of the countries that voted in favour of Saudi Arabia’s admission to the commission, despite its extremely poor human rights record.

“I think we’re going to ask him to tell us how Ireland voted. I think it’s not unreasonable to ask, the idea that this could be carried out behind closed doors is an unacceptable convention.

“I think what we ought to do is ask who’s in charge, how we voted, and why we voted that way,” Mr Ross said.

“We’re going to make it absolutely clear that we expect transparency, that’s why the Independent Alliance is in power.

“If he won’t answer, we’ll push it further and keep asking and asking until we get a satisfactory answer.”

It comes as Taoiseach Enda Kenny contradicted himself by stating that he raised women’s rights during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

However, after his 2014 trade mission, he told the Dáil that the general issue of human rights had been bought up, but women’s rights, specifically, was not.

Mr Kenny yesterday moved to clarify this by stating: “What I raised with the Saudi authorities, as part of a trade and investment delegation, was the question of human rights, and women’s rights issues as a specific matter have been followed through by Minister Flanagan at Foreign Affairs Council meetings.”

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the Government’s concern for women’s rights is “without question” and has been demonstrated on many occasions.

“Ireland is currently a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Our strong reputation in promoting gender equality is reflected in the fact that in March, Ireland assumed the chair of the commission.

“This provides an opportunity for Ireland to take a leading role in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, generally,” he said.

What Enda Kenny said and didn’t say to the Saudis

What the Taoiseach said on Thursday in Montreal:

“I’ve raised the question of women [sic] rights with the Saudi Arabians when I was there myself a number of years ago on a trade mission. This is an issue that concerns us greatly. It’s always been a long-standing convention not to indicate the nature of the vote, but I expect that the incoming ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason will do a superb job with pursuing the issue of women’s right, in particular, when she takes up her duty as Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations later this summer.”

What Mr Kenny said yesterday in Toronto:

Reporter: Can you clarify just when you raised the issue of women’s rights?

Enda Kenny: I went to Saudi Arabia on a trade and investment mission in 2014 and, as part of that while on that mission, I raised the issue of human rights with the Saudi Arabian authorities, which obviously includes women’s rights, and that’s been followed through at the council meetings, where Minister for Foreign Affairs Minister Flanagan has raised, specifically, the issue of women’s rights and that will continue to be Ireland’s position and that will move through with the appointment of a new [Irish] ambassador [Geraldine Byrne Nason] to the United Nations later this year and I’m quite sure she will diligently follow that through, as well, in the context of the human rights, which I raised with the authorities, and women’s rights issues would be part of that.

Reporter: So, not expressly raised?

EK: No, but I think I said that in the Dáil at the time that the question of women’s rights as a specific issue wasn’t raised, but the question of human rights was.

Reporter: Were you mistaken yesterday when you said it was women’s rights that you raised?

EK: What I raised with the Saudi Arabian authorities as part of the trade and investment issue was the question of human rights and women’s rights issues as a specific matter have been followed through by Minister Flanagan at foreign affairs council meetings.


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