Minister Flanagan’s speech in response to the Topical Debate “To discuss whether Ireland voted on granting Saudi Arabia a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women” in Dáil Éireann on Thursday, 4 May 2017
Check Against Delivery
"I am very conscious of the debate here in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe about the outcome of last month’s election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I believe strongly in the equal rights of women and I support the role of the Commission in addressing questions of gender equality.
As set out in our foreign policy review, “The Global Island”, Ireland is committed to advancing gender equality. We played a key role in the establishment of UN Women, the UN body which promotes gender equality and which provides administrative support for the Commission on the Status of Women.
Ireland took up a seat on the Commission at the conclusion of this year’s session for a four-year period to 2021 and we will chair the annual sessions in 2018 and 2019. During its term on the Commission, Ireland has pledged to work to strengthen the voice and functioning of the Commission.
In 2018 the Commission, under our leadership, will attach particular priority to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. In 2019 our priority will be to advance equality of access to public services.
I want to secure agreement on these critical issues under our Chairmanship. To do this we will have to work closely with all UN member states and civil society to deliver the strongest possible outcome.
I would also point out that Ireland has strongly supported equal opportunity across the UN. In this regard, the Government was very pleased that a member of the Defence Forces Lieutenant Colonel Mary Carroll was last year appointed the first Irish woman in command of an Irish contingent in the UN Disengagement Force in the Golan Heights.
With respect to UN elections, Ireland’s approach very much reflects those of other countries at the UN and it is an important part of how international relations are conducted.
Since 1947, at the UN, the rules of procedure for General Assembly elections provide that they are held by secret ballot.
We do not publicly disclose our voting decisions. That is normal diplomatic practice and it is widely considered a fundamental aspect of the conduct of sensitive international relations.
It would be very damaging to Ireland’s ability to conduct international relations successfully if we were unilaterally to move away from this established practice. It would be irresponsible to abandon a practice that has been in place for over six decades, observed by all previous governments and that is grounded on protecting and promoting the values of small countries on the world stage.
This is not a practice that is specific to Ireland or to elections for the Commission on the Status of Women. It relates to elections to any UN body and I am not aware of any Member State which, as a matter of practice, publicly reveals how it votes. It allows for the good functioning of the UN which is made up of Member States of very different views and political backgrounds.
There are many countries in the world with which we have important policy differences, including in the area of human rights. The UN provides us with an important forum to discuss these differences. Our membership and leadership of the Commission on Women will provide us with such an opportunity. We will take that opportunity.
Ireland’s engagement on human rights at international level enables us to reaffirm our commitment to the universality, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights, to accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and to the protection of those – including women and girls - who are most vulnerable and marginalised."
"The UN at all levels including the Security Council and the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations, conducts its most sensitive work in complete confidentiality. As I have said, this is fundamental to the effective operation of an institution which we uphold and support. Indeed, it is fundamental to the operation of relations between States. Ireland does not propose to turn on its head a convention that has been in place since 1947.
I want to again acknowledge the very strong support there is in this House for gender equality and the protection of women’s rights which lies at the root of the discussion we are having.
Ireland has a very strong record on promoting the rights of women and girls at the United Nations. We are a leading voice in this field and, as I mentioned earlier, we will be chairing the Commission on the Status of Women during the next two years.
The outcomes of the Commission carry considerable moral force. Reaching consensus on subjects related to gender equality empowers advocates for the human rights of women and girls globally. This gives them a voice and a tool to hold Governments to account nationally on commitments made globally. In this way, the Commission has an important normative role in achieving gender equality globally.
As I stated earlier, Ireland will take the opportunity to move the gender equality agenda forward during our term on the Commission. There are many countries with which we have important policy differences on human rights.
Membership of the UN provides us with an important platform to engage with them. Membership of the Commission on the Status of Women will give us a particularly good opportunity to engage on issues of gender equality.
As she prepares to assume her role as chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, I am happy to ask our incoming Ambassador to the UN in New York, Geraldine Byrne Nason, to engage with the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding Ireland’s ongoing work at the UN in promoting the rights of women and girls."
04 May 2017