Taoiseach Enda Kenny has performed an apparent U-turn on whether he raised the matter of women’s rights on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Mr Kenny, in Montreal on Thursday, appeared to strongly suggest he raised the specific issue with Saudi authorities during a press conference with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
He was speaking in the context of the controversial vote to put Saudi Arabia on a United Nations body for women’s rights.
But yesterday, in Toronto, Mr Kenny altered his position significantly, saying he raised the issue of human rights during the trade mission, but not women’s rights.
The Taoiseach said: “I went to Saudi Arabia on a trade and investment mission in 2014. As part of that, while on that mission, I raised the issue of human rights with the Saudi Arabian authorities which obviously includes womens’ 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.
“That will move through with the appointment of a new [Irish] ambassador to the United Nations later this year and I’m quite sure she will diligently follow that through as well in the contxt of the human rights which I raised with the authorities and women’s rights issues would be part of that.”
Mr Kenny then conceded he had not raised the matter directly.
“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,” he said.
On Thursday, at the press conference, Mr Kenny gave a very different impression of the 2014 visit.
He said: “I’ve raised the question of women rights [sic] 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.”
The Dáil record from the time shows the Taoiseach told opposition TDs the subject was not discussed.
The Taoiseach led a trade mission to Saudi Arabia in January 2014, a trip which led to the signing of €65 million in contracts and the creation of 95 jobs.
In the Dáil that April, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin questioned the Taoiseach about whether he raised the issue of women’s rights during his time in the Kingdom.
In his reply, Mr Kenny told the Dáil that while he did raise the issue of human rights the question of women’s rights was not specifically discussed.
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