Saudi Do That



Taoiseach Enda Kenny with HRH Crown Prince Salman, Deputy Premier and Minister for Defence during visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2014

Further to the mass execution by Saudi authorities of Shia dissidents…

A recent paper published by Donnacha Ó Beacháin [Senior Lecturer in Politics/International Relations, and Director of Research at the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University] recalled Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s five-day trip to the Middle East in January of 2014 which saw him visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In his paper entitled Ireland’s Foreign Relations in 2014 , Donnacha writes:

Collectively the three economies had an estimated annual GDP of €1.2trillion, and Ireland had exported goods worth €626 million to Saudi Arabia in 2012. The taoiseach was joined on the trip by Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation (and former rival for the Fine Gael party leadership) Richard Bruton and over 100 senior executives from 87 companies…

Economics and trade dominated the taoiseach’s meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman. Eager to impress their hosts the delegation frequently made improbable comparisons between Ireland and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Patrick Moynagh, special advisor at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, said that pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Saudi Arabia were ‘not that different given [their] backgrounds as colonised nations and the influence of an orthodox religion’.

The taoiseach warmed to this theme and told the Saudi Minister for Higher Education that the two states had a shared history of colonialism, famine and emigration.

The objective, however, was less to swap parallels in the long but overlooked history connecting Ireland to Saudi Arabia than to secure additional Saudi students for Ireland.

A staggering 150,000 Saudis study overseas on the King Abdullah scholarship programme, of which 2,700 were enrolled in Ireland as of 2014, and the taoiseach said the figure would soon rise by another 500.

Human rights also were discussed, though not in the manner that might be expected. After the meeting the taoiseach said that he had congratulated the prince on his kingdom’s recent election to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC), though this obscured the fact that there had been no election per se given that Saudi Arabia’s candidature was approved without a contest.

It also masked the reality that Saudi Arabia, unlike neophyte Ireland, was a veteran member of the UNHRC having been a member since its inception in 2006 without any amelioration of its appalling human-rights record.

By stating that ‘Ireland obviously will work with Saudi Arabia in terms of human rights and their participation on the council’, the taoiseach implied that the two countries would work together at the UNHRC to fight for human rights in third countries, rather than addressing imperfections in their own states.

Addressing questions regarding the marginalisation of women in Saudi Arabia, the taoiseach stated that he had spoken to some female university lecturers during his trip, before admitting that they lectured at women-only universities.

The Fine Gael leader also said that he had ‘congratulated the Saudis on their leadership in terms of moderation here in the Gulf region and their desire for a peaceful situation on a lot of very complex and technical issues’.

This statement was at odds with the view of Saudi Arabia familiar to many western observers. An absolute monarchy where political parties are banned, Saudi Arabia has long been a negative force in the region, a huge financial backer of Islamic fundamentalism and eager to suppress any democratic impulse in the Middle East, as demonstrated when it sent troops to neighbouring Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Trials and sentencing can be arbitrary, while public floggings and beheadings are a weekly occurrence for crimes such as blasphemy, ‘losing the faith’ and practicing witchcraft.

Meanwhile, In Qatar…

The taoiseach encountered similar questioning on his approach to raising human-rights issues in the Middle East when he arrived in the tiny absolute monarchy of Qatar.

In proclaiming that projects such as the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar ‘will be catalysts for broad economic expansion in the host countries and beyond’, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade de-emphasised the well-documented exploitation of migrant workers (a remarkable 90% of Qatar’s workforce is imported from abroad), many of whom live in slave-like conditions; Amnesty International reports that workers have been dying at the rate of one per day while building the FIFA stadia in which theWorld Cup soccer matches will be played.

Asked about scandals surrounding the exploitation of South Asian workers, the taoiseach responded by saying that, “my assumption is that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities and I expect that to be the way…the instinct here is that the stadia to be provided will be absolutely world class.

By the time the Taoiseach arrived in Abu Dhabi, coverage of his trip inI reland was becoming bogged down on the issue of human-rights abuses in the Gulf States.

Asked if the interests of making profits were being put before human rights, the taoiseach responded that trade and investment opportunities were the priorities for the mission, and that while Ireland had ‘always been very consistent in highlighting human rights issues’, it would do so ‘at the appropriate forum’.

Asked if he specifically mentioned human-rights concerns in his meetings with either Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or Qatar’s prime minister, the taoiseach replied that he was on a trade mission and that the focus of the tour was to promote the ‘credibility and integrity’ of Irish companies.

Minister Bruton adopted a similar line of responses and emphasised that while Ireland raised human-rights issues through the EU and UN, ‘our focus here is exports and jobs’.

Ireland’s Foreign Relations In 2014 (Donnacha Ó Béacháin,

Brutal decision by Saudi Arabia to execute dissidents adds to escalating conflict between Shia and Sunni branches of Islam (Irish Times editorial, January 5, 2016)

Previously: Bullets To Afghanistan

Pic: Merrion Street


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20 thoughts on “Saudi Do That

  1. fluffybiscuits

    Ireland would’nt dare criticise, money matters more and more to this govt than human rights. Labour have had no interest in workers rights since the late 90s when the tiger rolled around. They should have been the ones to speak up about the abuse of workers,a party which was built on the foundations of the working man.

  2. ollie

    Let’s compare:
    Blasphemy is illegal in Ireland., FG refused to change this legislation
    Women’s rights in Ireland are appalling and issue such as unviable pregnancies are exported.
    The less fortunate in society are ignored, over 1,000 homeless children for example
    Transfer of wealth from Irish citizens to banks and bondholders like the Finance Minister
    Robbing of private pension funds
    Defacto ban on anti government protests
    Defacto ban on reporting of anti government protests

    Kenny is right, Irish and Saudi governments are very alike.

    1. newsjustin

      Ollie. If you really think the standard of development and respect for human rights in Ireland is even in the same universe as Saudi Arabia, you are beyond any reasoning.

    2. ahjayzis

      Ireland didn’t execute nearly 50 people the other day.

      I get your sentiment, but you devalue the horrors freethinkers, women, gays, face living under that theocracy by comparing their fanatical monarchy with our corrosively inept, craven, but democratically elected and non-bloodthirsty leaders.

    3. ReproBertie

      There is no ban on anti-government protests in Ireland nor on the reporting of same. Grow up.

      1. Sad Face

        There is surveillnace of known protestors though.. and harrassment and intimidation..
        Not a patch on the Saudis but lets not pretend FG/Labour like the plebs speaking up for themselves..

        1. Anne

          Is there surveillance or just a profile kept of the more troublesome ones?

          Some of them are pretty aggressive like..

          Angry little annies out there who need an outlet..

          1. Neilo

            Jaykers, if R-Berts is a blueshirt, I’m Norman Tebbit.*

            *On reflection, I may be a slightly younger Tebbs.

          2. ReproBertie

            To the AAA/PBP/SF groupies anyone who is not actively burning effigies of Enda is a blueshirt.

  3. newsjustin

    At the risk of sounding contrarian (never!), we’d be a pretty lonely Isle if we called every country we had “relations” with on their human rights record. Though the Saudi regime is horrendous.

    There are a handful of regimes – such as North Korea and Eritrea – where pretty much ANY interaction, even if just with messers like Russia and China must have a moderating and civilising influence.

    I wonder what would have happened if End had criticised the Saudis re women’s rights, democracy, etc on that trip. Would they shrug it off or drop Irish contracts?

    1. Pip

      Well, Mr Enid, you must understand that we face a set of very different and complex situations here than you do at home in your country. Please know that in the fulness of time we will come to address many of these our problems and challenges – by which time of course your own set of issues may very well have changed also.
      As a leader you must know only too well the challenges of maintaining that esteemed position, and the perils of closing more than one eye at the time.

    2. Neilo

      @Repro: I may legitimately be the most rightwing person in this ‘unsafe space’ and I’m tickled by how freely that blueshirt label is thrown around here.

  4. Owen

    I fail to see any point in this post. Two articles published 2 years. One on current affairs, the other on a trip 2 years ago.

    The trip was to get money into Ireland. If people were annoyed about trying to do this from an extreme state they should have said it 2 years ago, not now when another example of extremism occurred.

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