Saudi vote row prompts pledge to notify Ministers in advance

‘It was agreed in future any UN vote of similar sensitivity and importance would be flagged’

 Independent Alliance member and Minister for Tourism Shane Ross said a ‘compromise was reached’ over how Ministers are notified over UN votes. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Independent Alliance member and Minister for Tourism Shane Ross said a ‘compromise was reached’ over how Ministers are notified over UN votes. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Cabinet will be notified of controversial United Nations votes in advance in future following a “very direct” exchange of views over Saudi Arabia today, according to Minister for Transport Shane Ross.

The Independent Alliance Ministers raised the Government’s repeated refusal to say if Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN body on women’s rights with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan on Tuesday.

“Compromise was reached. It was agreed in future any UN vote of similar sensitivity and importance would be flagged and Cabinet would discuss them in advance of the vote,” Mr Ross said.

Other sources suggested there would be no discussion of the votes in advance, but merely notification.

A row between Ministers was sparked last week when it emerged Saudi Arabia had been elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women recently.

Citing long-standing convention, Mr Flanagan insisted he would not tell Ministerial colleagues at today’s Cabinet meeting whether or not Ireland supported Saudi Arabia’s election.

The matter was not on the formal Cabinet agenda but was raised by Mr Ross and his Independent Alliance colleague Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath.

Mr Ross confirmed he asked Mr Flanagan and the matter was discussed in a “very direct” way. Mr Flanagan did not reveal how Ireland voted, however.

Mr Flanagan has argued there was no record of any secret ballot vote at the UN by Ireland, since 1955, being disclosed.

According to this precedent the Government would not have discussed the Saudi vote in advance and Cabinet would not have decided how the vote should be cast.

The recommendation would have come from Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador David Donoghue.

Also aware of the vote, thanks to their oversight role, would have been Mr Flanagan and the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs Niall Burgess.

Last week Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the incoming UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, currently Ambassador to France, “will do a superb job with pursuing the issue of women’s right in particular when she takes up her duty as Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations later this summer”.

Mr Kenny was last week forced to clarify that he had not specifically raised the issue of women’s rights during a 2014 trade mission to Saudi Arabia.

The Dáil record showed he told Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin the issue of women’s rights had not been specifically discussed.

However, he said he had raised the issue of human rights with the Saudi Arabian authorities, “which obviously includes women’s rights”.

The vote for Saudi Arabia and 12 other countries has been characterised by Government sources as a formality, with 20 or 30 such votes taking place every year.

All 13 countries were elected to 13 vacancies on the Commission and no other countries lost out. Such elections normally take place by acclamation but it is understood the US requested a vote in this instance.