Ireland, along with 52 other countries, is currently a member of the UN’s Human Rights Commission.
The Commission recently elected Libya as its chairman, but not before the United States put up a fight.
The chairmanship has traditionally been awarded by acclamation but the U.S. demanded a vote on the grounds that Libya’s human rights record made the North African nation an inappropriate choice.
The vote went ahead last week. Only three nations voted against Libya. They were the U.S., Canada and Guatemala, a country with its own dubious human rights record in recent years.
Ireland voted too, but would not say which way.
This was because the vote was by secret ballot.
A spokesman at the Permanent Irish Mission to the United Nations in New York was apologetic but said that it was not possible to state the nature of the Irish vote because of the required secrecy.
So which way did the Irish vote go? Was it among the 33 nations that voted for Libyan chairmanship or the 17 who abstained.
The answer was to be found in the context of Europe.
As a member of the European Union, Ireland often coordinates its voting at the UN with its fellow EU states.
The Human Rights Commission currently has seven EU member states, Ireland included of course, on its roster.
So when the New York Times reported that the European seven had plumped for abstention, it was enough to tear away the veil of secrecy. Ireland had abstained in one of the more contentious recent issues to rattle the UN outside of the matter of war or no war against Iraq.