Members of the Independent Alliance have said they want the Department of Foreign Affairs to disclose how Ireland voted on Saudi Arabia's membership of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross said there should be transparency, indicating that the issue is likely to be raised at Cabinet next week.

Minister of State John Halligan said the rights of women were being violated and that could not be tolerated.

This evening, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan declined to indicate how Ireland voted.

He cited established diplomatic practice of member states not disclosing their voting intentions or voting decisions as the reason for his stance.

The issue of whether Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia joining the UN commission was raised in the Dáil during this evening's Topical Issues debate.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said: "You would struggle to find any country in the world where women are treated so poorly than Saudi Arabia".

He said that the people of Ireland suspect that "diplomacy and trade interests have won out and human rights have lost out."

Independents4Change Clare Daly said that the minister "cannot hide behind a spurious precedent" in not disclosing how Ireland voted.

Earlier, Mr Flanagan, was told to stop hiding behind statements as people "deserve to know" if Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia joining the commission.

Speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil spokesman on foreign affairs Darragh O'Brien said he hoped Ireland played no part in facilitating that position.

"Do our Government, through you, deem it appropriate that Saudi Arabia sit on a United Nations Commission on the status of women?" he asked. "Is it a question of trade ahead of human rights?" 

Mr O'Brien described the move as "akin to letting the fox into the hen house."

He said any person who knows anything about Saudi Arabia's track record of treating women "would find it absolutely disgusting that the Irish Government would support" the move.

He said that he hopes the minister will answer the questions and as people "deserve to know", adding that "we don't live in Soviet Russia." 

However, when asked by Mr O'Brien if he was going to respond to the query, Mr Flanagan said "no".

At a joint press conference in with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, Taoiseach Enda Kenny twice refused to say how Ireland had voted.  

Earlier, Mr Flanagan issued a statement saying he will not be disclosing how Ireland voted on the matter.

He said there had been a long-standing tradition and policy of non-disclosure on how any country votes, and he would not depart from that convention.

In response to Opposition calls on the issue, the minister said Fianna Fáil governments over the years had also observed the convention.

Mr Flanagan said he was very concerned at the status of women in Saudi Arabia and had raised this matter specifically with the deputy foreign minister there on a visit before Christmas.

He said Ireland has a long-standing record in the area of women's rights and children's rights.

Mr Flanagan said he was very concerned at the status of women in Saudi Arabia and had raised this matter specifically with the deputy foreign minister there on a visit before Christmas.

He said Ireland has a long-standing record in the area of women's rights and children's rights.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Flanagan reiterated his position, saying: "It is my strong view that it would be very damaging to Ireland's ability to conduct international relations successfully if we moved away from this established practice. 

"It would be irresponsible of me to abandon a practice that has been in place for over six decades, observed by all previous governments and is grounded on protecting and promoting the values of small countries on the world stage."

Irish reputation at risk over vote - activist

Ireland's reputation for defending human rights is at risk as a result of not challenging Saudi Arabia's membership of the commission, an activist said.  

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, Erin Kilbride from Front Line Defenders - a Dublin-based organisation which aims to protect human rights defenders at risk - said discussion on the issue of voting secrecy is taking attention away from the violations of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Ms Kilbride said that when countries like Ireland and Belgium do not publicly challenge the Saudi Arabian laws it signals a lack of international support for activists on the ground.

"If Saudi Arabia is allowed to hold this position without being challenged internationally, with people saying yes you have this seat but guardianship rules, driving, treatment of human rights defenders etc, if those things are not continually vocalised and advocated against by governments that allowed this vote to pass, then that reads to human rights defenders on the ground that you have no international support," she said.

Opposition parties critical of Govt position

Opposition parties have been critical of the Government's position. In a statement this morning, Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan said: "I am demanding the Department of Foreign Affairs to clarify whether Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia securing a seat on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

"If it is a case that the Irish Government did support the Saudis, it is a disgraceful state of affairs."

Labour spokesperson on foreign affairs Ivana Bacik said: "It is outrageous that Saudi Arabia is now elected as a member of the commission, and very worrying to see reports that five European states may have voted in favour of its membership.

"I call now on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, to clarify whether Ireland was one of the states which supported Saudi membership."

Dublin Workers' Party Councillor Éilis Ryan said the Government's refusal to reveal how Ireland voted can only be taken as a tacit admission that the Irish representative voted for the Saudi delegate.

"There is no justification for silence from the Government on this matter," she said, adding: "There is no security implication, and no economic or other excuse can be acceptable. Either the Dáil or the court of public opinion must extract the truth from the Government."

In the Dáil this afternoon, Labour leader Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste to reveal how the Government voted.

However, Frances Fitzgerald refused, saying it is the practice that countries do not disclose their UN votes.

"That is the approach that has generally been taken. This is the procedure that has been adopted in the UN" she said.

The controversial vote last month has already resulted in Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel making a public apology for supporting the Saudis.

According to the UN, the Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In a statement, the Saudi Arabian Embassy said Saudi Arabia has taken great steps in promoting the rights of women, and its candidacy for membership of the commission comes from its "leading role in strengthening the role of women."

Last month, Saudi Arabia successfully campaigned for a seat on the commission, securing 47 votes, at least five of which are said to have come from European countries.

The outcome caused a storm of controversy, with Human Rights Watch stating bluntly that Saudi Arabia's election is an "affront to the mission of the commission itself, and a rebuke to Saudi women".

When it was revealed that Belgium supported Saudi Arabia, Mr Michel expressed regret in parliament and declared Belgium would vote differently if the ballot could be held again.

Geneva-based advocacy group UN Watch has described Saudi Arabia's election to the commission as "morally reprehensible" and raised questions as to whether Ireland was another European country which gave it support.