Mary Robinson says she made her biggest mistake in role over Princess Latifa

Former president now says she believes UAE princess is being detained against her will

Former Irish president Mary Robinson has described her role in the controversy surrounding Dubai princess Latifa Al Maktoum as the biggest mistake she has made and said she had been naive.

Following a lunch meeting in 2018 with the princess and her family, Ms Robinson had described the princess as “troubled” but now says she was betrayed by the princess’s stepmother, a former friend, and believes Princess Latifa’s claims she is being detained against her will.

The case has garnered international attention amid increasing concerns for Princess Latifa’s safety.

Photographs of the lunch in Dubai were quickly made public, a development Ms Robinson said had left her “flabbergasted”.


“I was naive. I should have been more alert,” she said of the episode, during an interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.

The now 35-year-old princess reportedly had attempted to flee Dubai in February, 2018, but was forcibly returned and has maintained through leaked recordings that she is being held captive. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The following December, Ms Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, attended the family lunch with the princess.

At the time she described her as a “troubled” and “vulnerable” young woman who regretted planning her escape. While a “very likeable young woman” she said the princess clearly needed the medical care she was receiving.

In a recent interview with BBC Panorama Ms Robinson said she had been duped into believing Princess Latifa had bipolar disorder and was traumatised by her escape attempt.

On Friday, she appeared on the Late Late Show “not to excuse, but to explain” her role in more detail.

She said she had been contacted by her former friend, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain, who asked her to travel to Dubai to help.

Once there, she explained, she was misled into believing that the princess had bipolar disorder and they needed her help in establishing proof-of-life.

“I absolutely trusted Haya,” she said.

Describing the lunch, she said Princess Latifa had initially looked subdued but later came around while talking about skydiving.

“She seemed to become more and more engaged and looked a bit happier. And at the end, I remember, she actually thanked Haya for the lovely lunch,” she said. “I now know she was told to be on her good behaviour.”


Ms Robinson said she had engaged in “chitchat” with the princess but did not ask her about her situation.

“I thought maybe I should take a moment to ask her and then I said, you know she has been traumatised and she’s actually having a happy lunch.”

She said she would have asked her if she was being held prisoner but she felt convinced by what she had been told by Princess Haya, and regretted not doing so. A subsequent meeting with Princess Latifa's purported psychiatrist had also been "very convincing".

Ms Robinson said she wanted the focus back on Princess Latifa but conceded the affair had impacted negatively on her reputation.

“It has been very tough . . . in every sense. I care about my reputation; I care about my integrity.”

She also said she had been naive in her approach. “I made a big mistake. I’ve made mistakes before, that’s the biggest one.”

Earlier this month the United Arab Emirates said Princess Latifa was being cared for at home. The UN human rights watchdog has asked it to provide proof that she is alive.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times