A blazing row has erupted over European countries that may have voted to elect the Middle East state to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The Dáil heard warnings that if Ireland did a secret deal to give one of the 47 votes to elect Saudi Arabia, that it was supporting a country that beheads its own citizens.
Independent4Change Clare Daly said: “Turning a blind eye is the quid pro quo for sealing trade deals, like the agreement on enhanced access to Saudi Arabia for Irish beef inked by the Minister for Agriculture this past February.”
The Saudi regime in Riyadh was responsible for dropping cluster bombs on Yemin, forcing four million women and children into malnutrition, and had also funneled arms and money to groups, such as Isis, she claimed.
The pressure by TDs, including from Fianna Fáil, came as Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel was forced to apologise for being one of the five EU states that had supported Saudi Arabia’s nomination to the UN rights body.
Critics say leaked emails showed Belgium’s vote was made known to Saudi Arabia so it could use this as an advantage with the oil-rich kingdom.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Ireland would not break from the tradition of keeping its votes for members of such bodies secret.
Cabinet colleague and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed denied there was any “quid pro quo” when it came to such votes and issues such as trade. No such agreement existed to access markets, he told RTÉ.
However, he also warned that if countries such as Ireland revealed their hand or votes for such bodies that they could be left open to being “bribed or blackmailed” by other states with interests. The secrecy of the ballot ensures there is no linkage with other countries, said Mr Creed.
However, human rights activists groups, including Frontline Defenders, called on the Government to reveal how it voted, and to campaign to highlight Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.
However, last night, during a special Dail debate, Mr Flanagan highlighted Ireland’s track record on defending women’s rights.
“Ireland has a very strong record on promoting the rights of women and girls at the United Nations. We are a leading voice in this field and, as I mentioned earlier, we will be chairing the Commission on the Status of Women during the next two years.”
He reiterated that it was normal practice not to disclose UN votes.
“We do not publicly disclose our voting decisions. That is normal diplomatic practice and it is widely considered a fundamental aspect of the conduct of sensitive international relations.”
The issue, though, may be raised at Cabinet next week. Independent Alliance ministers said yesterday it needed to be clarified if Ireland had voted yes or abstained. Transport Minister Shane Ross signalled that “transparency” on this would be sought.
From Canada, Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the decision not to disclose Ireland’s vote.
Speaking in Montreal, Mr Kenny said it is not the convention to disclose vote and made it clear he would not reveal how Ireland voted.
“This is an issue which concerns us greatly,” he said. “It has always been the convention not to indicate the nature of the vote at the United Nations. I am sure Geraldine Byrne Nason will do a superb job of pursuing the issue of women’s rights when she becomes our Ambassador to the United Nations.”