Politicians take tour to learn about China style of justice

FIVE members of an Oireachtas committee have travelled to China for a 10-day trip that includes visits to many of the country's tourist attraction.

Four Fianna Fáil TDs and one Fine Gael senator from the joint Justice Committee travelled to China on Friday, September 15, where they are visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and Hong Kong before returning to Ireland on Sunday.

Committee chairman Sean Ardagh is accompanied by TDs Charlie O'Connor, Denis O'Donovan and Máire Hoctor as well as by Senator Maurice Cummins from Waterford. Mr O'Donovan, the TD for Cork South-West, travelled to Argentina and Chile earlier this year with the Communications and Marine Committee, a trip that aroused much criticism.

The delegation will meet Chinese government officials, members of the judiciary, prison officials, and the all-China women's committee during the trip.

They will also visit a prison and a drugs rehabilitation centre.

There are a number of Irish-oriented events, including dinner with ambassador Declan Kelleher and the opening of the Asian Gaelic games in Shanghai.

The committee will also visit Tiananmen Square, scene of the student revolution in 1989.

However, a considerable amount of time has been scheduled for visits to sights including the Great Wall of China and the terracotta warriors, as well as a night trip by boat and visits to a shopping and food market.

Mr Ardagh, also a member of the Public Accounts Committee, has previously been on Oireachtas trips to San Francisco, Melbourne, Canada and Chile.

Long-haul travel by delegations from Oireachtas committees, and by the Irish Parliamentary Association, has attracted considerable controversy in recent years because of the nature and length of the trips.

Critics say that some of the trips are hard to justify and portray them as junkets or perks of the job.

This trip to China is one of a number of visits undertaken by Government, presidential, and parliamentary delegations to China in the past two years.

Previous visits - including those of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President Mary McAleese - have been criticised for their failure to sufficiently mention China's human rights record, widespread reports of suppression of minority groups, and serious shortcomings in its judicial system.

An investigation by the Irish Examiner revealed that foreign trips by parliamentarians cost the taxpayer up to €1 million each year.

Yesterday, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said many trips taken abroad by Oireachtas committees were a waste of taxpayer's money.

"Any journey abroad is a waste unless it is intimately and organically linked to a very specific and measurable role and function.

"What can you learn about justice and human rights in China?" he asked.

"I pointed out to Bertie Ahern that there's no point raising in very vague terms human rights abuses, the repression of dissidents, and wholesale abuse of workers.

"They end up traipsing around the place as if none of this is going on," he said.

Oireachtas delegations travelling on long-haul trips are entitled to fly in business class but some committees opt to fly standard class.

The China delegation will stay at high-grade hotels in the four cities, as well as dining in salubrious surroundings.

Oireachtas party to mix banquets and tourist attractions with trips to prisons and meetings

Friday, September 16

* Arrival at Grand Hotel in the capital Beijing.

* Visit to Great Hall of the People.

* Meeting with judicial affairs head followed by banquet.

Saturday, September 17

* Visit Great Wall.

* Visit Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

* Dinner at the Irish Embassy in Beijing.

Sunday, September 18

* Visit to the Summer Palace.

* Visit to a cathedral.

* Dinner at Peking Duck Restaurant.

Monday, September 19

* Meeting with All-China Women's Federation.

* Afternoon free.

* Depart for Grand Hyatt Hotel in Xian.

Tuesday, September 20

* Visit to the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

* Visit to Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

* Dinner followed by cultural performance.

Wednesday, September 21

* Depart Xian for Shanghai.

* Visit to Royal Gardens and adjacent shopping/food market.

* Dinner with vice-premier of Shanghai.

* Boat tour at night.

Yesterday

* Visit to the Shanghai Supreme Court.

* Tour of Pearl Tower.

* Visit to Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.

* Dinner hosted by the Consul General Nicholas O'Brien.

Today

* Visit to Qing Pu district prison.

* Tour of Zhu Jia Jiao water town.

* Delegation attends the official opening of the Asian Gaelic Games.

Tomorrow

* Flight to Hong Kong.

* Afternoon free.

* One-hour meeting with representatives of Hong Kong Judiciary and Correctional Services.

* Dinner hosted by Honorary Consul at Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Sunday

* Depart for home.

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