Cork mayor may quiz Chinese about human rights

The Lord Mayor of Cork, who vigorously opposed and protested against the city’s twinning with Shanghai a decade ago, said he is prepared to raise China’s poor human rights record with its government officials this week.
Cork mayor may quiz Chinese about human rights

He is leading a delegation to mark the 10th anniversary of the city-sister link.

Cllr Chris O’Leary (SF), who has also spoken out over councillors’ travel expenses, said the trip was in the best interests of the city.

“I said at my inauguration that I would do what the city requires of me, and do what’s best for the city. I recognise the fact that, as Lord Mayor, you have to, at times, put aside personal matters or beliefs to represent the city as a whole.

“And, yes, there are things you have to do that you may be uncomfortable with, but I view twinning links as more than just economic. It’s about people coming together and understanding each other. It’s through dialogue that we understand.”

Mr O’Leary, who was a member of the Green Party at the time of the twinning in mid-2005, was one of four city councillors who protested against the link.

He said he believed that China’s human rights record — including its jailing of political dissidents, persecution of religious minorities, and use of the death penalty — made its cities unsuitable for twinning. “It is time that we seriously reconsider our relationship with the Chinese government, on the grounds of its lack of commitment to reform and accountability on human rights,” he said at the time.

City Hall has defended the twinning link and said it was in accordance with the Government’s Asia strategy, a large part of which is to develop links with China.

The city’s head of planning, Pat Ledwidge, who spearheaded the twinning and who has strengthened the links since, said human rights issues are addressed at national and EU level, whereas the council was tasked with developing city-to-city links and the twinning.

Mr O’Leary said Chinese society has opened up, thanks in part to the educational links between UCC’s Confucius Institute and the partnership between several Cork schools and Chinese schools. His daughter, Orla, is among the Cork students who have spent time in China, thanks to school twinning links.

However, Mr O’Leary, who arrives in Shanghai today, said he was still prepared to raise China’s human rights record with senior government officials this week.

“I expect to have open and frank discussions with Chinese officials, at various levels, and I expect them to be able to ask us human rights questions, too — for example, they might ask us why we have so many people homeless in Ireland.”

A delegation of 30 people representing Cork will be in Shanghai for the week to mark the 10th anniversary of the sister-city link. Joining the Lord Mayor are the chief executive of Cork City Council, Ann Doherty; the president of Cork Chamber, Barrie O’Connell; chamber CEO, Conor Healy; chairman of the Cork Education and Training Board, Ted Owens; and senior representatives of UCC, CIT, Tyndall Institute, and the Rubicon Centre.

Twenty dancers, musicians, and crew from the city council’s Pulses of Tradition show will perform the award-winning traditional Irish music show there.

Several meetings have been arranged for the business and academic groups with their Chinese counterparts, and with IDA Ireland, to deepen relations between the two cities. Delegates will also attend the Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum on Friday, and the launch of the 20th FEXCO Asian Gaelic Games at the weekend, which is due to be attended by Tipperary hurling legend, Nicky English and the broadcaster Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh.

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