Simon Coveney, last week:
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir on Wednesday held a meeting at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh with the Irish Foreign and Defense Minister Simon Coveney.
The two sides discussed during the meeting bilateral relations and means to develop them and exchanged views on regional and international matters of common interest.
Simon Coveney, this week:
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Dáil that UEFA “showed cowardice” by not agreeing to a request to by authorities in Munich to light up a stadium in the rainbow colours in for last night’s Euro 2020 match between Germany and Hungary.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Coveney said that issue is not about politics but “human rights”.
There are of course differences between Hungary and Saudi Arabia, but those differences do not flatter Mr. Coveney, or the Irish Government. For example, in Hungary, it is now illegal to “promote homosexuality” (whatever that means) in the school curriculum. It is illegal, to a far more widespread extent in Saudi Arabia too, but the difference lies in that in Saudi, you cannot “promote homosexuality” anywhere, even in your own home. There is also a difference in the punishment. In Hungary, you will probably receive some sort of official sanction. In Saudi Arabia, you will get 450 lashes – a punishment from which people never physically recover.
Coveney and the Irish Government are not the only rank hypocrites here, of course. UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, is all in on Gay Rights during the EURO 2021 competition. But this same UEFA plans to send teams, next year, to the world cup in…. Qatar. How much do you want to bet that they will go a bit quiet about LGBT rights for the duration of that tournament?
What it comes down to, of course, for both the Irish Government and UEFA, is that gay rights are grand, but money is better. They will promote the cause of LGBT equality when it costs them nothing – lecturing the Hungarians, for example, is cheap and feel good and gets people nicely worked up and outraged. Lecturing the Saudis or the Qataris could have real financial costs, in the case of Ireland’s beef exports, and in the case of World Cup TV revenues for UEFA.
Of course, there is a pragmatic argument, which is the one that Coveney’s defenders will make: That it is politically easier to pressure Hungary than it is to pressure Saudi Arabia. Hungary is in the EU. The EU could, in theory, sanction Hungary and force it to heel on the matter of rainbow flags and education. In practice, that is unlikely to happen, since Hungary is a member of the Visigrad bloc within the EU, and more than capable of retaliating by clogging up the EU’s work. But in theory, at least, we could apply pressure.
The problem with that argument is twofold: First, gay rights are either a universal value, or they are not. Hungarians might well point out that the EU is content to deal with oppressive regimes the world over, and unwilling to make this argument universally, which undermines its legitimacy. Second, it is just cowardly, because it demonstrates to the Arab world that we in Europe, and the west more generally, are too frightened to challenge them on a matter of fundamental values. The financial argument, after all, runs both ways: The middle east is dependent on trade with Europe. That gives us leverage on matters of human rights, if we want to use it. The simple fact is that we do not want to use it.
Gay rights, for western governments, are increasingly just a cheap way to win votes and raise a rabble. They promote them when it is convenient, they stay silent when it is not. Coveney is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In Ireland, that makes him hypocrite in chief. And most people are fine with that – we’ll take our cheap sugar high for bashing Hungary, and bank the profits from Saudi Arabia. Thinking about it for too long might make us feel bad, so we just put it out of our minds.