Kenny defends not raising human rights issues in Gulf

Taoiseach says focus of his visit was trade and investment opportunities

The Taoiseach said he did not voice concerns about human rights issues in Saudi Arabia and Qatar while meeting senior politicians in the Gulf region as he wanted to focus on endorsing the "credibility and integrity" of Irish companies during a trade mission.

Mr Kenny has been criticised by Socialist MEP Paul Murphy for putting profits before people while leading an Enterprise Ireland trade mission in the region and he today said there were appropriate forums for such concerns to be raised.

He said the focus of his Gulf visit was talking as a priority about trade and investment opportunities.

"Ireland has always raised human rights issues individually with different countries through the European Union and through the United Nations where we hold a seat on the United Nations Human Rights committee at the moment," he said.

“Of course Ireland has always been very consistent in highlighting human rights issues and we’ll do that at the appropriate forum.”

He added: “I congratulated Saudi Arabia on being elected to the Human Rights commission seat and Ireland will work with all members of the United Nations in respect of human rights.”

Asked if he specifically mentioned concerns in his meetings with either Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud or Qatar’s prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Mr Kenny replied that he was in the countries on a trade mission.

“It is important to endorse [Irish companies’] credibility and their integrity and I think they now understand the responsibilities that they have to live up to in fostering partnerships that will create jobs both at home and benefit the economies of both our countries,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticised over its human rights record and the treatment and marginalisation of women in the Kingdom. Amnesty International says more than 80 people were executed in the Kingdom in 2012 and local media this week reported on the case of a Filipino man who faced execution unless he raised 2 million rials.

Qatar has been criticised for its treatment of migrant workers during its building boom by labour organisations and by Amnesty International who have pointed to low-wages, poor working conditions and indication of forced labour.

Today in Abu Dhabi, Mr Kenny met the crown prince of the emirate, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan, and its foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He said they had "a really constructive meeting" during which they discussed business opportunities.

The Taoiseach also met representatives of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the chamber of commerce and Etihad Airways.

Mr Kenny was this afternoon given a tour of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque before an address to an embassy hosted by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Embassy.

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times