Flanagan refuses to disclose Saudi Arabia vote despite Alliance call

Saudi Arabia appointed to major international body that monitors women’s rights

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has refused to disclose how Ireland voted. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has refused to disclose how Ireland voted. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has again insisted he will not reveal how Ireland voted in a United Nations vote electing Saudi Arabia to a major body on human rights.

He was speaking in the Dáil on Thursday after Government partners, the Independent Alliance, had called on him to say how Ireland had voted.

Mr Flanagan said since 1947 the rules of procedure for general assembly elections provided they were held by secret ballot.

“We do not publicly disclose our voting intentions or our voting decisions,’’ he added.

“That is normal diplomatic practice and it is widely considered a fundamental aspect of the conduct of sensitive international relations.’’

Mr Flanagan said it would be very damaging to Ireland’s ability to conduct international relations successfully if it unilaterally moved away from that established practice.

“It would be irresponsible to abandon a practice in place for over six decades, observed by all previous governments and that is grounded in protecting and promoting the values of small countries on the world stage,’’ he added.

Mr Flanagan said he was not aware of any member state which, as a matter of practice, publicly revealed how it voted.

“It allows for the good functioning of the United Nations which is made up of member states with very different views and very different political backgrounds,’’ he added.

The Minister was replying to Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly.

Mr Wallace said electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights was like making an arsonist the town fire chief.

He said Saudia Arabia was engaged in genocide in Yemen and had caused a humanitarian disaster, while Ireland engaged in trade with them.

Ms Daly said Irish people were absolutely outraged at a country infamous for the subjugation of women being given a place on the monitoring body.

Alliance call

Earlier, Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister of State John Halligan and Minister of State Finian McGrath said they could see no reason why the information could not be released.

Mr Ross and Mr McGrath said they would raise the issue at the Cabinet meeting next week.

The issue came to light after a leak to the media in Belgium which disclosed that its government had supported the Saudi application.

Its prime minister has now said he regrets that it voted in favour.

On RTÉ radio, Mr Flanagan was asked about calls by Fianna Fáil’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Darragh O’Brien for the Minister to reveal how Ireland had voted. Mr Flanagan replied that no Fianna Fáil government had revealed how Ireland had voted at the UN.

“Darragh O’Brien will know that this is a long standing policy and practice.”

Mr O’Brien had said: “We deserve an answer. Does this send the message that Ireland supports Saudi Arabia and their treatment of women?” he asked.

“We’re not going to allow this to be swept under the carpet,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.

“People need to know. People will be disgusted and outraged if they find that we facilitated Saudi Arabia getting a seat on the commission.

“The idea that 47 nations supported Saudi Arabia is incredible. The idea that our country supported one with their track record is not acceptable.”

Erin Kilbride of the human rights organisation Front Line Defenders said Ireland’s international reputation on human rights could now be questioned.

“If Ireland stays silent on this, it says they no longer support the 50 per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia who cannot control their own lives.”