Cabinet divisions over Irish vote on Saudi Arabia in rights body

Government divisions over the election of Saudi Arabia to a UN women’s rights watchdog escalated along party lines yesterday, with Fine Gael ministers clashing with their Independent Alliance colleagues.

Cabinet divisions over Irish vote on Saudi Arabia in rights body

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has said Transport Minister Shane Ross has “never raised” concerns about his refusal to disclose how Ireland voted on Saudi Arabia’s place on a United Nations women’s rights body.

Mr Flanagan, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said he was only aware of the Independent Alliance’s concerns from media comments from Mr Ross and his colleagues ministers Finian McGrath and John Hallligan.

“He has never contacted me, but I have seen his comments to the media,” said Mr Flanagan.

“I am more than happy to discuss the issue on Tuesday when I know the Independent ministers intend raising the matter.”

However, Mr Flanagan made it clear he would not be changing his position saying that it is a rule of the UN not to disclose the nature of the vote and he does not intend doing so now.

Mr Flanagan said: “We have never broken the rules and I intend adhering to the convention of the United Nations but as I said I am happy to deal with the issue at Cabinet on Tuesday.”

However, he was said to be highly annoyed at Mr Ross and the other Independent Alliance ministers breaking ranks last Thursday, when they called for the Irish vote to be disclosed.

Mr Flanagan said it would be highly damaging and irresponsible for Ireland to reveal how it voted on this issue, which has been the centre of considerable controversy in recent days.

Backing up Mr Flanagan was Social Protection Minister and leadership contender Leo Varadkar who said the vote should not be disclosed.

“The position is that United Nations votes are conducted by secret ballot. It has been the case since the 1950s. No country discloses how it votes,” he said.

“We won’t be doing so and there are reasons why you have a secret ballot.”

Mr Varadkar also said that there were 13 candidates for 13 positions so, no matter what way Ireland voted, Saudi Arabia would have taken a position anyway.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Mr McGrath confirmed that it is still his intention to raise the issue at Cabinet on Tuesday, adding that it is important that the people are told how their Government voted on such an important issue.

“We will be raising the matter on Tuesday at Cabinet. We feel strongly that the vote should be revealed,” he said.

This is not the first time the Independent Alliance has clashed with Mr Flanagan.

The sides appear at odds on whether to formally recognise the state of Palestine.

While it is included in the Programme for Government, moves to deliver on that commitment have been stalled by Mr Flanagan, say members of the Independent Alliance.

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