In 2019, the then-deputy prime minister of Ireland Simon Coveney spoke at the UN Human Rights Council, where he underlined Ireland’s commitment to defending human rights – which he said was strengthened by his country’s membership of the EU. As he told the summit, freedom and justice are:
“woven through our foreign policy, through our bilateral engagement and through our determined and committed membership of the European Union.
The speech came in the midst of the Brexit negotiations, where Ireland were keen to be portrayed as noble victims of the Brexit vote, pitted against an isolationist, knuckle-dragging UK.
How times change. Coveney, now Ireland’s foreign minister, has just gotten back from a trip to China, as part of a European delegation of foreign ministers from Poland, Hungary and Serbia. The trip certainly seemed to go well, or at least Beijing seemed to think so. Politico’s Stuart Lau pointed out on Monday that the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, celebrated the trip afterwards by releasing a crowing statement. The Chinese authorities quoted Coveney as saying that it is a ‘common wish’ for the EU to strengthen its cooperation with China, and that it would be a ‘historic mistake’ if the EU and China were separated by ‘certain man-made barriers’. Mr Steerpike wonders if those ‘man-made barriers’ might include Beijing’s rather loathsome treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province or the way it has smothered democratic rights in Hong Kong.
Since then, Mr S has been waiting patiently for the Irish department of foreign affairs to put forward its version of events, perhaps explaining that Coveney did indeed raise human rights issues when he visited China. Sadly, no such statement or press release about the trip has been forthcoming. Instead, it appears that Coveney’s foreign office are rather embarrassed about the entire business and have not mentioned it all on its website. Coveney has found time though to comment on the Nordic region, the International Red Cross and the EU’s digital passport scheme.
In the end, it appears that rather than strengthening Ireland’s commitment to human rights, its membership of the EU has allowed the country to ignore them entirely. So much for that heartfelt commitment to ‘freedom and justice’…