Eamon Gilmore was under fire last night for “crudely” comparing the plight of human rights abuse victims in China with potential business deals.
Defending his failure to raise individual cases with visiting Chinese vice president Xi Jinping, the Tánaiste said: “No, we didn’t raise specific cases anymore than we raised specific trade investments.”
Amnesty International branded the linkage “extremely unfortunate” and Sinn Féin dismissed it as “crude”.
Amnesty had asked the foreign affairs minister to raise specific cases with Mr Xi during his three day visit, especially the plight of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence for calling for peaceful democratic reform, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who is in custody, whereabouts are unknown.
A spokesperson for Amnesty said: “That was an extremely unfortunate analogy. We are extremely disappointed that individual cases were not raised.”
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald rounded on the Tánaiste’s remarks.
“It was very crude to link the two things in that way. I don’t think those two things should be put together in a sentence in that way.”
Mr Gilmore said there was little point raising cases as they would just be “ignored” by Mr Xi.
“I think the important thing about the outcome of the meeting is the agreement that human rights will form part of a discussion between Ireland and China going forward.
“It’s far more important that we have a framework where the issues we raise will be effective rather than just raising a list of issues and they being ignored,” Mr Gilmore told RTÉ.
The Tánaiste added that Ireland could have things to learn from China in the field of human rights.
“I think it’s important that China and Ireland will continue to discuss human rights issues in a respectful way and in a way that we can learn from each other.”
Amnesty described the level of human rights abuses in China as “staggering” and pointed out that 190,000 are imprisoned under “re-education through labour” sentences, torture is routine, and some women are forced to have abortions.
Journalists were banned from asking Mr Xi any questions during his three-day visit that finished with a trade event at which the Taoiseach pledged to make Ireland a bridge between China and the eurozone.
Enda Kenny, who will visit China next month, said: “I can assure you all that I will be delighted to play my part in enhancing trade and investment between Chinese and Irish companies.
“Yes, Ireland is a small country. We have a population of just 4.5m people, a number dwarfed by the size of any one of dozens of Chinese cities alone, never mind the entire country.”
Mr Kenny stressed Ireland enjoys a very powerful global diaspora of about 70m people worldwide who claim to be Irish.
Mr Xi said China offered “tremendous business opportunities” for Irish firms.
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