Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of “speaking out of both sides of his mouth” after claiming that Christians in the Middle East have asked the Government not to speak up in their defence.
Responding to a letter from Senator Neale Richmond about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, Mr Coveney described this as “deeply disturbing” but defended the Government’s tendency to speak of religious and ethnic persecution in a broader sense.
This is often at the request of “local Christian and other minority representatives”, he said, claiming that “explicit messages of support from western countries only expose them further to the (unjust) accusation that their communities are somehow legacies of or agents for western intervention in the region”.
Questioning this analysis, however, Michael Kinsella of Aid to the Church in Need said this does not match the charity’s experience of talking to beleaguered Christians on the ground.
“It’s simply not the case that highlighting at an international level what has been going on would inflict the kind of carnage that they’re talking about,” he told The Irish Catholic. “Simon Coveney is speaking out both sides of his mouth.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that Western governments had backed Syrian militants who were opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad, making it difficult to speak in favour of Christian communities who have looked to the Syrian dictator for protection.
“Coveney is trying to have his cake and eat it here,” Mr Kinsella continued. “He’s trying to say that the reason why we won’t speak up is because they’re telling us on the ground we should be quiet or we’d be seen as agents of western intervention.”
Acknowledging that it could be imprudent for the Government to name individual Christians in speaking up for beleaguered minorities, Mr Kinsella nonetheless said opposition to western governments like that of Ireland speaking out more generally is not borne out on the ground.
“It didn’t stop them from looking to support the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, it didn’t stop them talking about the Yazidis, and it certainly hasn’t stopped them from taking stances against Islamophobia,” he said. “For me this is purely political, it is in no way humanitarian.”