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Paddy Clancy column: Mary Robinson may have been used as pawn in Dubai princess case

Princess Haya’s reported move to Germany raises the very serious question that Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson may have been unscrupulously used as a pawn.

Seven months ago I said I was disturbed in this column when Mrs Robinson had lunch with Sheikha Latifa, Haya’s step-daughter, in the United Arab Emirates.

Photographs were released on Christmas Eve to prove to the world that Latifa was back safe with her family. She wasn’t dead as some feared when she attempted to escape her family and her country.

She had been kidnapped in the seas off India from her escape yacht and returned to Dubai, one of the emirates ruled by her father Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Latifa’s bid to escape what she regarded as a gilded prison was documented by BBC television. Viewers were struck by her courage but her family was determined to give the world another impression.


They knew Mary Robinson’s magnificent reputation as a human rights campaigner would carry great weight across the world.

Mrs Robinson, recruited by her friend Princess Haya, found that 33-year-old Latifa was likeable but troubled, vulnerable and had an unnamed serious medical condition.

In fairness, Mrs Robinson insisted she was just making an assessment and wasn’t being judgemental.

Human rights organisers and campaigners were critical, but Mrs Robinson’s observation seemed to be enough to calm worldwide public opinion – until last week when Princess Haya, one of al-Maktoum’s several wives, was reported to have fled Dubai to Germany.

She is said to have requested asylum and filed for divorce from her billionaire husband who has extensive racing interests in Ireland and world wide.

Haya’s departure so soon after persuading Mary Robinson to have a well-publicised lunch with Latifa, is bound to increase the claims of human rights campaigners that Dubai really is a gilded prison and reported progressive reform and freedom within the emirate is a façade.

One campaigner, Tony Cadman, Latifa’s former lawyer, said Haya’s attempt to seek refuge in Europe, clearly demonstrates the lengths that women are being forced to go to in order to flee a system of oppression and abuse.

That’s a system that Mary Robinson fought against strenuously all her legal and political life, in Ireland and around the world.

Her friendship with Haya and her concern about discussing family difficulties may have clouded Mrs Robinson’s focus.

It’s now time for her to dispel the public belief that the Dubai royals used her wrongly as a public relations executive to protect a false family image.

One way to begin that process is to persuade Haya to publicly reveal why she fled Dubai and to join the campaign to allow Latifa to tell her own story away from her “gilded prison”.

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