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There has been general, and understandable, international outrage at the torture and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a barbarity carried out by Saudi state agents in their embassy in Istanbul.
Even Theresa May, prime minister of a country with especially close economic ties to the Saudi regime, condemned the murder “in the strongest possible terms”. German Chancellor Angela Markel went further and suspended arms sales to the Saudis.
The Irish government’s response has, perhaps surprisingly, been more measured. Writing in the Sunday Business Post, Elaine Byrne describes that response as resembling “thin watery soup devoid of substance”.
Byrne reports how Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has contented himself with expressing “shock”, calling for a full investigation, and with having “raised” the matter with the Saudi ambassador to Ireland.
I can, up to a point, sympathise with Coveney: rushing to judgment is probably a bad idea in international politics.
But no such circumspection was evident when Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat earlier this year over that country’s alleged involvement in the Salisbury poisoning case. This was what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called an “act of solidarity” with the UK, based on the UK intelligence services’ (and we all know how reliable they are) attribution of responsibility for that nerve gas attack to the Putin regime.
Varadkar defended the decision on the grounds that “When it comes to terrorism, assassinations, the use of chemical weapons and cyberterrorism, we are not neutral one bit.” Though it seems we are a tad more neutral (or at least less keen to rush to judgement) when it concerns a man having his fingers cut off while alive, and being dismembered with a bone saw.
Elaine Byrne speculates about whether Irish economic ties to Saudi Arabia have influenced the government’s decision – it is, after all, Ireland’s largest export market in the Middle East region.
Also in the Sunday Business Post, an exclusive report details the scale of those economic links between Ireland and Saudi Arabia, amounting to €10 billion per annum, mostly consisting of chemical and agricultural products.
But it is not just drugs and beef. Ireland also exports “dual-use” goods to Saudi Arabia that can be used for either military or civilian purposes, with at least €25 million of Irish exports designated for what the newspaper describes as “specifically military-grade exports”.
If the realization that we are exporting military products to Saudi Arabia makes you feel nauseous, hold onto your sick bag: it gets worse.
Saudi Arabia is leading a war (backed by the US, the UK and France) against the impoverished state of Yemen, a war that has resulted in countless thousands of civilian deaths and is leaving the country on the brink of an appalling famine. The United Nations warns that 14 million Yemenis are, right now, at serious risk of that famine.
In the meantime, Saudi forces, with Western military backing, have carried out savage attacks such as the killing of 40 children in the bombing of a Yemeni school bus in August of this year.
A UN Human Rights Council report concludes that Saudi-led coalition “air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities”.
Anti-war activists in Ireland have raised legitimate questions about whether the Irish government’s willingness to let the US military have unlimited and uncontrolled usage of Shannon airport contributes to this slaughter. Sadly, it may well do.
If Shannon is the obvious fulcrum of Irish collusion (indirectly via the US) with Saudi human rights abuses, then Dublin’s financial services may be a less obvious, but no less important, one.
The Sunday Business Post shows how the Irish Stock Exchange (or Euronet Dublin) has acted as the base for massive borrowing by companies wholly or partially owned by the Saudi state, the transactions often funneled via “tax-efficient” locations like the Cayman Islands.
Some football fans in England are showing admirable concern about their clubs being taken over by elements connected with the Saudi regime. We in Ireland should be willing to show similar skepticism towards the embrace of this murderous, medieval kleptocracy.