Senator Ronan Mullen has asserted that Ireland’s foreign policy has more to do with trade than morality or human rights, and has questioned Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney’s relationship with China and Iran.

The senator made the remarks while speaking in the Seanad on Tuesday.

“I raise today the strange attitudes of the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he said.

“On May 19th, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, met the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, which was a friendly meeting by all accounts, complete with elbow bumps.

“On June 1st, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, visited China and made a very emollient statement afterwards of the kind we have become used to. It was certainly nothing China would object to.

“The same week the Minister launched a ferocious attack on Israel in the Dáil regarding the conflict there and, just 24 hours after returning from China, he correctly denounced the President of Belarus as having no democratic legitimacy.

“How can he excoriate Israel one day and have friendly elbow bumps with the foreign minister of a country supplying the rockets Hamas use to attack Israel the next? How can he have friendly meetings with a totalitarian communist government and then accuse Belarus of having no democratic legitimacy?”

Senator Mullen went on to question the implications this has for Irish foreign policy more broadly.

“What does it say about the moral underpinning of Irish foreign policy? Have we stopped pretending we base our foreign policy on morality and human rights, instead sacrificing both on the altar of trade links? It is hardly a coincidence that we are trying to expand our exports to China and Iran but have negligible exports to Israel and almost none to Belarus.”

According to Mullen, in May 2019, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported on the signing of a memorandum of understanding between one of China’s main foreign affairs organisations, the CPAFFC, and an Irish-based think tank, Asia Matters. According to this report, at the ceremony, Simon Coveney said this relationship would help Ireland reach out to the European Union and advance China’s interests in the EU.

“If the relationships (between Ireland and China) that are being forged today are built on respect, I believe that Ireland can play an important role in terms of being a voice within the European Union to help understand the new China,” said Coveney.

Ireland is very successful in playing that role and “that is certainly a role that we are trying to play,” he added.

Coveney, in his speech, recalled three visits to China as an Irish minister, including the one he made during Saint Patrick’s Day last year, which he said is “the most important occasion for visitations from Ireland during the year.”

“So China has been prioritized politically in Ireland,” he said.

“Does that not say it all?” said Mullen.

“We need a debate on China and our Government’s attitude to it.”