Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Other Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
I advised the House last May of my intention to continue with the process of dialogue between Government and churches, faith communities and non-confessional organisations that was inaugurated in February 2007. Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of many of the partners in this dialogue to convey directly this interest. I also arranged in late July for a suggested framework to be sent to dialogue partners for consideration.
Contacts and dialogue with the various churches and bodies have continued at official level. I am aware that several invitations have been received in relation to community meetings, for which I am most appreciative and I hope to be in a position to accept at the earliest opportunity.
I am disappointed that the amount of time, necessarily devoted to the current economic situation in the country, has unfortunately limited my capacity to engage in other matters. I can however, assure the House, Ceann Comhairle, that I am deeply committed to this process and I hope to arrange meetings soon with dialogue partners.
The structure for dialogue will include meetings at official and ministerial level. The agendas for these meetings will be agreed in advance with each dialogue partner. The process of structured dialogue was envisaged from the outset as a channel of consultation and communication on matters of mutual concern, but not to displace or override the normal arrangements for the conduct of policy and administration by Government Departments and agencies in their functional responsibility.
Meetings may be sought by either side on the basis of a proposed agenda and arrangements in this regard will be made by my Department, which will provide the administrative support for the process. My intention remains that the process of dialogue will develop in the years to come to be a very valuable support in dealing with issues of change in society and I am confident that the opportunity to exchange perspectives and address issues of mutual concern in this way will be of great benefit to all the participants.
I have two questions for the Taoiseach, the first of which relates to reports that the religious orders have only handed over a fraction of the agreed amount of compensation in respect of abuse committed by their members. Tá mé ag lorg eolais faoi sin. An bhféadfadh an Taoiseach a rá leis an Teach an stádas a bhaineann leis seo ag an mbomaite?
Second, has the Taoiseach discussed with the representatives of the Church of Ireland the demands for an investigation into the Bethany House scandal? The Taoiseach will be aware that former residents have criticised the Government - I agree with them - for excluding them from investigation. These people have a right to be treated as any other survivors or victims of institutional abuse. I ask that the Taoiseach seize the opportunity to right a huge wrong and that he reconsider the Government's decision and ensure that former residents of Bethany House are given the inquiry they deserve and that he deal with the representatives of the Church of Ireland on this issue.
The Deputy has asked two specific questions. On the institutions and the extent of the amount paid over by the religious organisations, that matter is being dealt with by the Minister for Education and Skills. I have previously answered questions on Bethany House and see no reason to change the view stated. I am of course open to discussing a full range of issues when the meetings with the individual church organisations and groups take place.
Does the Taoiseach know if the press reports that only a fraction of the agreed amount of compensation has been handed over are true? How are the victims of Bethany House treated differently from any other victims of institutionalised abuse?
That matter is under discussion in the Department of Education and Skills. If the Deputy puts a specific question to the Minister for Education and Skills, I am quite sure he will give the Deputy the most up-to-date details on the matter.
I listened to the Taoiseach's reply very carefully. I do not get the sense of any substantial engagement with the churches. The reply seemed to focus on the process and the framework. Not long after he took up office, the Taoiseach assured me in this House that he would engage actively with the various churches. In particular, he assured me that he understood the needs of smaller religious communities and their schools, which are so central to their faith. I met a number of people from the Protestant churches recently. I heard at first hand from them about the devastating impact that the Government's policy of targeting cuts on smaller schools will have in September. The policy will have a disproportionately hard impact on minority faith schools. It is a huge issue not just in the Border counties, but also right across the country.
I met a Church of Ireland bishop in Cork over the weekend. It is a very serious issue for that church as well. Can the Taoiseach explain how the Government can reconcile its stated commitment to supporting religious diversity in our society with its attack on the very lifeblood of minority communities? Can he explain what he has done on foot of the many complaints he has received from minority religions about the targeted impact of these cuts on their schools?
The Minister for Education and Skills is responsible for dealing with the schools issue and he will do so. I have received invitations or expressions of interest to meet a number of organisations, including the Islamic community. I was invited during the Eid visit some time ago to contact the community, at a time that would be appropriate and convenient, to arrange to attend a community evening that it would like to host. Some of the issues that are likely to be discussed at a bilateral meeting, including education, migration and the recognition of professional qualifications, have been identified in anticipation of such a meeting. Contacts arising from that visit have continued at an official level. An invitation to meet the Jewish community arose in the context of a community visit by the newly elected President Higgins and in the margins of the visit by the Speaker of the Knesset. Obviously, the Jewish community would like to meet the Taoiseach at an appropriate time. It expects that it might take place in the context of a visit to the Jewish museum. Contact has continued with the Humanist Association of Ireland from time to time. The Church of Latter-Day Saints has been in contact with the Department. It is hoped that we will have a meeting at official level shortly. The Church of Ireland has been in contact with the Department. It has suggested that a meeting be arranged in due course to discuss a number of issues. It might be more relevant for it to have meetings with individual Departments, depending on the issue to be raised.
The agreed arrangements are that officials will engage with the churches on the basis that the secretariat for the State, as a partner in dialogue, will be provided by the Department of the Taoiseach. The dialogue will be arranged in a way that does not displace any existing or ongoing consultation or dialogue. Departments and agencies will continue to recognise and include the churches and the non-confessional bodies as part of consultation practices for policy preparation in relevant areas. The dialogue will be open, inclusive, transparent and fully in accordance with the provisions of Article 44 of the Constitution. The dialogue will be capable in principle of addressing any matter of individual or mutual concern. The inaugural meeting took place in Dublin Castle when all of this started in 2007. The Deputy is aware that four meetings - with the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Jewish community and the Islamic community - took place prior to the election and the summer recess. The resumed process involved the Humanist Association of Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends - Quakers, the Baha'i faith, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Orthodox churches. When I get an opportunity to do so, I will be happy to have meetings with the groups and with the group collectively as I did before.
The Taoiseach has not really addressed the question I asked, which related to his activities on interfaith dialogue. I asked him to make a statement on the question of any meetings he has had with religious orders. The bottom line is that it is incomprehensible that the education situation, in so far as it applies to minority religions, would not be a core part of that dialogue. Has the Taoiseach met the Church of Ireland? Has he discussed the impact of the changing of the pupil-teacher ratio on small Church of Ireland and Presbyterian schools across the country? I refer particularly to the impact of such changes on their faith, which is the major issue in many communities across the country. I respectfully put it to the Taoiseach that if he continues to ignore those who are pleading with him to intervene to stop these targeted cuts, his credibility and that of the Government on the protection of religious diversity will be seriously undermined. It is a serious issue. Since the foundation of the State and the enactment of the Constitution, we have always sought to promote diversity and pluralism and to create space and opportunities for minority faiths to prosper and develop. There is no doubt that the attack on small rural schools and the policy as enunciated will have a detrimental impact on minority faith schools. That needs to be addressed by the Government. Has it formed part of the Government's discussions with the churches to date? Has the Government had a specific meeting with the Church of Ireland or other churches on the matter?
After I met representatives of the churches, the faith communities and the non-confessional bodies, I asked officials in the Department to prepare a structured dialogue process. The aims of the process, which was plenary and bilateral, ministerial and official, and generic and specific, were set out for each of the individual organisations and faith groups. One of the aims is to achieve mutual respect and understanding between the civil authorities and those who lead our churches, faith communities and non-confessional bodies. Deputy Martin pointed out that the groups in question have played a significant role in shaping the ideas, values and identity of our own people. Another one of the aims of the process is to respect the voice of the major institutions of civil society as a key part of our democratic process. That was reflected most forcefully in the constitutional treaty for the EU, which recognised the identity and specific contribution of the churches and philosophical and non-confessional bodies. As the Deputy is aware, that provision complemented the terms of the preamble to the treaty, which acknowledged the inspiration drawn from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe and engaged with the principle of open, transparent and regular dialogue with the churches and non-confessional bodies, which operates under the European treaties.
There was an acceptance of the need to acknowledge the multicultural reality of a much diverse range of churches and faith communities, compared to that which existed in the past, in order to build better understanding across a more diverse society. It was agreed that there was a need to give recognition to the fact that embracing difference and diversity can intensify and deepen self-understanding. There was a focus on ensuring the structural dialogue did not in any sense compromise the principle of democratic accountability for policy. Finally, it was agreed that there was a need to be alive to the rights and positions of those who do not subscribe to religious faith and have contributed to the development of Irish society from a philosophical basis that does not derive from religious belief or practice. I set out the principles and aims of the structured dialogue process when I met the groups last year. The principles in question, which were followed through after they were outlined, are always borne in mind when discussions take place at official level and with the individual organisations, church groups, faith groups and non-confessional groups. I am very much aware of how sensitive this can be for people and how important it is to them. The issues with regard to individual school areas, etc., have been dealt with by the Minister for Education and Skills. When I next meet all the bodies or meet them bilaterally for structured dialogue, these principles will be clearly borne in mind. I take the Deputy's point and its importance. As I stated, it is outlined in the principles we have put in place for structured dialogue.
I am not talking about structured dialogue. I got very little from this exchange because the Taoiseach has not answered my questions. This is a very serious issue for those concerned. Has the Taoiseach discussed the matter with any of the churches and will he agree to meet representatives of the minority religions on this issue?
I met representatives of all the churches and bodies together and had that discussion with them. I met the Archbishop of Dublin and representatives of the Church of Ireland. I have had occasion to meet others but not in formal session. I pointed out to the Deputy in my reply that the vast majority of my time, and that of the Government as a whole, is taken up dealing with the economic crisis. The discussions have continued at official level. When I get an opportunity - by June, I hope - we can resume formally the discussions with the churches, faith organisations and non-confessional bodies.
Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach if he met the Vice President of China on his recent visit; if he will report on his visit to China on a trade mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10580/12]
Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of human rights and the lack of democracy in China with the Chinese vice-president when he met him; the commitments if any, that were made by the vice-president on these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13950/12]
Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting he had with the Vice President of China and other Chinese Government members; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19795/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 14, inclusive, together.
The questions pertain to my recent visit to China and the visit to Ireland by Vice President Xi Jinping in February. Ireland and China have a strong bilateral relationship. More than 30 years of diplomatic relations have seen ever-increasing levels of trade, cultural exchanges and growing numbers of students travelling between our countries. Nevertheless, I believe the additional opportunities available to us from this relationship are enormous. One of my priorities since taking office has been to highlight these opportunities and to work to deepen further and cement our relationship.
High-level visits in both directions are an important sign of this developing relationship. In September 2011, I was pleased to welcome Mr. Zhang Gaoli, a senior member of the Communist Party of China, to Dublin. As the House is aware, Vice President Xi Jinping and his large accompanying delegation visited Ireland from 18 to 20 February. Ireland was the only EU member state in his itinerary, which also covered the United States of America and Turkey. Vice President Xi Jinping confirmed an invitation to me from Premier Wen Jiabao to visit China at the end of March, which I was happy to accept.
My visit to China on behalf of the Government, coming so soon after the visit to Ireland by Vice President Xi Jinping, which received widespread and positive media coverage in China, was an excellent opportunity to take the relationship to a new level. The key objective, therefore, of my visit to China from 26 to 29 March was to further develop strong government-level relations between Ireland and China and build upon the successful visit to Ireland by Vice President Xi Jinping. In particular, I sought to further promote bilateral economic relations and trade with a view to securing greater penetration of Irish exports and investment in China in a range of key areas, including technology, education services, agri-food and financial services, in addition to ensuring that China sees Ireland as an attractive location for investment. My programme also reflected the Government's efforts to promote Ireland as a location of choice for Chinese students and as a destination for Chinese tourists.
During my visit, I had a number of high-level political engagements, including with Premier Wen Jiabao, Vice President Xi Jinping and Mr. Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. I was also delighted to meet the Mayor of Shanghai. During these meetings, as in my discussions with Vice President Xi Jinping in Dublin in February, my central message was my desire to develop stronger relations with China at the highest political level, and to promote Ireland both as a source of world-class products and services and as a location for Chinese investment. I highlighted Ireland's potential as a gateway to the European market of over 500 million people and our many strengths such as our young, well-educated workforce and strong capacity for entrepreneurship and innovation.
I also stressed the potential for increased investment and economic co-operation in key sectors such as education, financial services, culture, tourism, life sciences, cleantech and agri-food. I stressed the quality of Ireland's agri-food produce and raised the issue of accessing the market for Irish beef. I agreed with the Chinese leaders that our respective administrations would work on accelerating a resolution of this matter. The culmination of my visit was the conclusion of a strategic partnership agreement that sets out a framework to ensure mutually beneficial co-operation between Ireland and China in a number of important trade and investment areas. I raised the issue of human rights with Vice President Xi Jinping both during our meeting in Dublin and again in our follow-up meeting in China. I also discussed human rights during my meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and Chairman Wu. I expressed the hope that as China develops, it will be possible for further progress to be made in ensuring that individual rights are enjoyed by all China's citizens, and also emphasised the need for continued dialogue including through EU human rights dialogue.
The Chinese leaders acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the area of human rights in China, while referencing recent reforms that have been made including measures to lift people in China out of poverty. During my visit to Beijing, I delivered a keynote speech at Tsinghua University as part of the Tsinghua Global Vision Lecture Series and was honoured to meet the president of the university. On the trade and investment front, I had a very intensive programme while in Shanghai and Beijing reflecting my objectives to promote bilateral economic and trade relations. I attended business events in both cities organised by Enterprise Ireland and attended by more than 900 Irish company representatives and their Chinese customers and partners.
I witnessed the signing of more than €35 million worth of contracts and commitments in Shanghai and Beijing during these events. In addition, a number of significant memoranda of understanding were signed both during Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to Dublin and again during my visit to China.
Our intensified engagement with China, including high-level visits, with the strategic partnership agreement and the sectoral memoranda of understanding, have put Ireland-China relations on a new level. The strategic agreement provides a clear and important framework for closer engagement and co-operation in all of the key areas of interest to Ireland. It is a new and highly significant development in Ireland-China relations. I am determined to build on the momentum that has been established.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, has just returned from a very successful visit to China, during which further important trade and business contracts were concluded. Further ministerial visits are encouraged for the coming months and we will continue to ensure that we maximise the opportunities for greater trade and investment in the months and years ahead.
When it suits the Taoiseach, for rhetorical or political purposes, he talks about his commitment to democracy and his abhorrence of violence. However, when money and business are at stake, his concern for them goes out the window.
The Taoiseach said but one sentence on human rights in China. What did he discuss with the Chinese dictatorship? Did he raise, for example, the fact that 500,000 Chinese people are in detention without trial? Did he raise the fact that the Falun Gong, Christians, Tibetans, Uighurs and anybody dissenting politically against the Chinese regime, including poets and writers who criticise it, are ruthlessly dealt with and imprisoned? China has one of the highest rates of execution and abuse of the death penalty. Its trials are a joke for people who oppose the regime. There is a brutal dictatorship in place. Do morality, the commitment to democracy and concern for human rights go out the window when it comes to business, commerce and profit? In the Taoiseach's entire speech, he devoted but one sentence to human rights. What did he discuss? Where is the morality in developing close relationships with the Chinese regime when it is a brutal dictatorship?
I did not discuss the question of human rights with the Chinese leaders when Deputy Boyd Barrett and his apparatchiks decided to waylay ordinary people going about their democratic business in Galway, the city of the tribes. He should be ashamed of himself regarding that kind of conduct.
My speech contained a number of sentences on human rights. I stated I raised the issue of human rights with Vice President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Dublin and at our follow-up meeting in China.
I asked two questions on the Taoiseach's visit to China, which I welcome. As he said, a relationship has been developing over 30 years. He would have to acknowledge also that the Asia strategy of 1999 represented a very significant expansion and upscaling of the nature of the relationship between this country and China. I recall that back in 1999, two-way trade was worth approximately €500 million. By 2007-208, I understand it was worth €5 billion. That is true of many other countries and it reflects what is one of the great stories - whatever way one wants to put it - of the late 20th century and the early 21st century, that is, the fundamental change in the nature of the way the globe operates. The rise of China and India has had a fundamental impact on the world economy and we have yet to fully take on board the full consequence of that.
The Taoiseach raised a number of issues, including the life sciences. It is important we do not lose sight of our strategic need to continue to invest in research and life sciences. In the current financial climate, there is a danger that we are not paying the same attention to that as we did over the past decade and that researchers are being lost to the country.
The intellectual knowledge based approach with China is central. In that context, did the Taoiseach raise the issue of intellectual property rights, which has always been a very serious one and a bone of contention between Europe and China in terms of the development of products, services, patents and so on, in particular in the area of software and technology? China has always been interested in a strong relationship with Ireland in regard to software but it would seem the issue of intellectual property has retarded the development of that relationship with people having a certain sense of security around intellectual property rights.
Did the Taoiseach raise the visa situation or did the Chinese authorities raise it with him in terms of ease of access of Chinese students or educationalists to Ireland? The whole concept of a tourist visa has been mooted for some time by the last Government and by this one. Will the Taoiseach outline the up-to-date position in that regard as an important catalyst for the attraction of a greater number of Chinese tourist traffic?
The Taoiseach mentioned the EU-China dialogue on human rights, which is a very important framework and perhaps represents a substantive framework where proper weight can be attached to the issue of human rights as Ireland has a very strong international reputation for its commitment to human rights. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that we have to insist on our right to raise these issues at high level bilateral meetings. Equally, we must acknowledge that if one was to compare the China of today with that of 30 years ago, there is a marked difference and significant improvement. We would have to acknowledge progress. More than 0.5 billion people have been taken out of poverty as a result of the economic growth and progress but much more needs to be done and many questions need to be addressed.
Will the Taoiseach assure the House that he is committed to retaining Ireland's policy of voting in favour of an assertive human rights platform at the United Nations, in policy and elsewhere, irrespective of trade links or the impact of an assertive human rights policy on trade?
The 1999 Asia strategy was an important development and a recognition of the enormous potential and scope that exists in south east Asia in general with two of the planet's largest populations - India and China - which have enormous potential in terms of their economic development in the times ahead and in respect of opportunities for development here. It puts in context the scale of both populations and the size of the countries.
In regard to the memorandum of understanding, we did not discuss the detail of the intellectual property rights issue which is conducted on a European scale with China. However, for the Deputy's information, the strategic partnership agreement set out greater levels of two-way trade and investment between Irish companies and Chinese investors and vice versa and attracting inward investment from China to Ireland which can, in turn, facilitate access to the European Union. The Chinese were very interested in that in much the same way as the United States availed of Ireland's launching pad status into Europe. It set out increased co-operation in the areas of science, technology and innovation. As I pointed out to the Deputy, the budget in respect of these areas was increased despite the economic constraints we are under. It set out closer collaboration in the agri-sector, including food and agribusiness, and greater levels of cultural and people to people exchanges, including in the areas of education and research. It set out the opportunity for far closer engagement in that area.
During the visit of the Vice President here in February and again when we visited China along with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who accompanied me for a portion of that visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed on the promotion of international trade and services, the establishment of a joint investment promotion working group through the China-Ireland Joint Economic and Scientific Commission meeting, scientific and innovation co-operation and international education. There was also a series of memorandums of understanding in the financial services area between IDA Ireland and China's ICBC Financial Leasing, between the NTMA and the Chinese Investment Corporation and between Enterprise Ireland and CCPIT.
I would also point out to Deputy Martin that we now have three confuscist institutes here - in the University of Ulster, where I was last week, in UCD and in UCC. All of these are working very intensely with their counterparts and one another in respect of what can happen here. A number of education institutes here also signed memorandums of understanding and agreements with counterparts in China for students in China to do the leaving certificate and for students to come over here and do semesters in our universities. I might point out that a major Dublin legal firm signed a major agreement with most of the legal firms in China to deal with the question of common law philosophy and how that obtains in Western countries so that, as China expands outside its own shores, these personnel and young lawyers will be well versed in what that actually means.
From speaking to the people who were there from Ireland and involved in the education business, they were very excited about the opportunities that existed. I note that, for instance, UCD has a very strong programme of dealing with China, as has UCC. Students do a semester or a year there as the case might be. In the context of China and its potential, these links are all there to be developed.
I might point out that, while we have 30 years of diplomatic relations with China, it was of interest to the premier that, for instance, Michael Davitt, as the leader of the great agrarian movement here in the late 1800s, actually asked questions as an MP in the House of Commons about Sun Yat-sen, who was then one of the political forces able to bind the different groups together. Following that in 1914, for instance, when the Columban fathers were sat up in Dalgan by Fr. John Blowick from the west of Ireland, they actually baptised their first Chinese child as part of their congregation in 1920. So, there were other interactions between Ireland and China long before formal diplomatic relations began 30 years ago.
I have to say that I found it of interest that something that is of real connection with the Chinese people is that sort of culture and tradition that Ireland has had, not just in China but in many other countries. That is another reason we are one of the few countries to have a strategic partnership agreement with the second largest economy in the world. Given the challenges that the Chinese people face and given the staggering numbers and potential that exist there clearly for Ireland, there are opportunities both ways and we will do all that we can to foster these developments in the very best way possible.
I agree there is great potential to develop our trading links with China and the rest of Asia. For example, Vietnam is emerging from a difficult time. We must also be mindful of human rights abuses and there is an onus on the Government and everyone else to raise these issues in a way that can assist their being resolved. I also have concerns about the plight of the people of Tibet.
Having said that, Sinn Féin welcomed Vice President Xi Jinping's visit and the Taoiseach's subsequent visit to China. They were good initiatives. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have been part of this engagement and Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are to travel to China in the autumn. The maximum amount of co-operation across this island in developing our links and opening up markets would be good for everyone across Ireland.
I have two questions. First, Ireland has a global reputation for the production of high-quality food, one aspect of which is its agrifood sector. I am advised by a number of producers of Irish-processed pork that they are having difficulties getting access to the Chinese market. I wondered whether this matter arose during the Taoiseach's visit.
Second, as the Taoiseach may know, the Chinese firm SATIR is based in Dundalk and plans to invest €30 million and create as many as 200 jobs. This would represent the largest Chinese investment in our economy to date. Given the fact that Dundalk has suffered badly from job losses at Diageo and Vodafone, this is good news. Did the Taoiseach meet representatives of SATIR when he was in China?
I wish to raise a final point. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence. I understand that there are plans for a trade delegation later this year. Will the Taoiseach give us some details of that?
The trade delegation has not been finalised as yet. Obviously, there is a great deal of preparation to go into them, but what I am anxious to encourage is a series of ministerial visits. This is important in the sense of having real programmes to which both weight and respect are attached in terms of being able to do business.
I actually mentioned on a number occasions that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from the Northern part of the country would be travelling to China later on in the year. I referred to that when speaking with the Deputy First Minister recently.
When I raised the issue of the possibility of Irish beef getting into China with Vice President Xi Jinping, on the following day the premier, Mr. Wen Jiabao, was happy to acknowledge that he had instructed that the process by which this could become a reality would be set in train. As Deputy Adams is aware, this is a matter that has to be dealt with by scientific analysis and the examination of lesions under laboratory conditions. It is not just an issue of politics where one can say, "Release Irish beef into China", but that process is in train and was endorsed by the interactions with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he was there quite recently. Obviously, UCD has signed a very important strategic agreement arising from the most recent visit of the Minister to China.
In so far as the global reputation is concerned, we are anxious to have an understanding on the basis of trust with the Chinese people. They like to think that the Government and Irish people are serious. They know from their reflections on the kind of country that we are now, those who are working here and those who continue to invest here how important this is.
Deputy Martin raised a question with me about visas. He is aware that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, changed the rules to be more flexible here. I have to say that the figures are mind-blowing in the sense that the Chinese have to create 27 million new jobs per year and there are 8 million graduates leaving university each year. By 2020, they expect that 100 million Chinese people will be travelling on holidays abroad. The visa waiver function is of great interest to them.
I also met a number of companies that are interested in and talking about the possibility - I stress "possibility" - of direct flights to Ireland. Clearly, for Chinese visitors a long layover in Abu Dhabi or Frankfurt for seven or eight hours is a deterrent to a direct flight. They have got the capacity for that now.
I am also to meet a number of interested Chinese investors over the period ahead.
As the trade delegations and ministerial visits harden up, we will be happy to let people know about them so that there may be opportunities for Deputies to suggest one company or another could be considered as well. To be honest with the Deputy, I am not sure whether I met individual representatives of the companies that he mentioned. I attended a number of these business organisation meetings and breakfasts at which there were 300 to 400 people. It was important that they could make contact with the leader while he or she was there. In that sense I was happy to interact with all of them at some stage. The list of companies was extensive and some of their representatives travelled out long before the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and me. We were happy to engage with them and their Chinese colleagues and I witnessed the signing of contracts of interest to Irish companies to the value of at least €35 million.
I can follow up with the company in Dundalk which the Deputy mentioned. I am sure it is of interest to the company but the Government is anxious to pursue the matter in a realistic way. A number of working groups will have to be set up with a direct and realistic engagement with our Chinese counterparts in order to make these things become a reality.
It was memorable to see the tricolour on every lamppost in Tiananmen Square, which was symbolic of China's engagement with the Irish delegation.
The Taoiseach should withdraw the suggestion that I was involved in anything that could be described as violent activity in Galway. That is not true, as was confirmed by David McCullagh from RTE, who was present on the occasion. It is very dishonest -----
In regard to deploying this sort of dishonest tactic, did the Taoiseach discuss with the Chinese dictatorship tactics for dealing with protestors? Does he know that recently the poet-activist, Zhu Yifu, was jailed for seven years for the terrible crime of inciting subversion of state power? He faces seven years of incarceration because he wrote the following poem:
It's time, people of China! It's time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
Did the Taoiseach discuss with the Chinese dictatorship the fact that it is imprisoning poets simply for suggesting that the Chinese might come out on Tiananmen Square to demand their rights to freedom and democracy?
I did not catch what the Deputy said about his activities in Galway. He will be welcome the next time if he behaves himself in accordance with proper democratic rules and regulations and does not carry on the way he did.
As I said to Deputies Martin and Adams, I discussed the question of human rights with Vice-President Xi Jinping when he was in Ireland, with Mr. Wu, the Chairman of the party, Premier Wen Jiabao and again with Vice-President Xi Jinping in China. The Premier was forthright in his response. He recognised that China has more to do in respect of human rights but he pointed out the improvements that have been made to lift Chinese people out of poverty.
I am not aware of the individual poem which the Deputy cited and I did not specifically refer to any individual poet who might be imprisoned. The Deputy will be aware that we negotiate and discuss these matters through proper assemblies. Since 1971, when Ireland voted in favour of the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 recognising the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate Government of China, it is through this process that the issues of trade and education and all these things, including human rights, are raised. We will continue to do so from a European point of view, from a national point of view and in a bilateral way when the opportunity arises.
One of the key issues for the future is the two-way relationship in education. We need to provide more opportunities for students in Ireland to study Mandarin, particularly at second level. The Confucius institutes have been established but have substantive discussions been entered into with the Chinese authorities regarding a joint programme to facilitate student participation in programmes partially located in China? To be fair to our universities, the number of students completing third level degrees in Chinese studies and language combined with business and enterprise has increased significantly. Many are spending a year in Shanghai, Beijing or elsewhere.
There is significant potential for an expansive programme of internships with Irish companies located in China. From my own experience, however, such an initiative requires a proactive approach on the part of the State in terms of resources and support. Globalisation demands greater presence of Irish people on the ground in more locations than we have historically been able to manage. From an economic perspective, that is an important policy plank. I ask the Taoiseach if he agrees.
On my last trade mission to China as Minister for Foreign Affairs the Chinese authorities officially granted access to pork and declared that China was open to Irish pork products, although not beef.
Are there signs of significant interest among the major Chinese global companies in regard to using Ireland as a gateway to Europe? Did the Taoiseach discuss that issue with Chinese companies and the IDA and Enterprise Ireland with a view to identifying the obstacles to a more significant Chinese presence in the form of multinationals?
One of the memorandums of understanding we dealt with pertained to international education. The representatives from educational institutes, universities and second level institutes who were on the visit are seriously excited about the possibilities that arise. The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Cannon, has decided to learn Chinese and is proceeding to demonstrate that Irish people can master the language.
Absolutely, the ambassador, Mr. Kelleher, has done a wonderful job and he is fluent in Chinese. The memorandum of understanding dealing with international education will lead to the substantive joint programme to which the Deputy referred. The reaction of those involved at university level and in the world of academia in China was strong in this regard.
On the question of pork, the Chinese will require approximately 700 million pigs this year. This presents an enormous opportunity. What has already begun will be followed through and a number of the companies involved in food production are very excited about that.
I have met representatives of the Chinese Investment Corporation regarding a number of bank investment opportunities and this was followed up by officials during the course of the visit. The chief executive of the IDA met a series of potential investors in Ireland.
As an unaligned country with wonderful connections all over the globe, we can do a lot to help the understanding of Sino-American relationships. Ireland is a perfect location for advancement of understanding on a number of issues.
We will work hard to develop this relationship, including investment in Ireland. There was interest expressed - I cannot put it beyond that until persons would move and decide whether to sign on the dotted line - but also serious potential, which will be followed through, for investment from here in China. One of the bigger companies is CRC, which is doing exceptionally well in north-eastern China, but I was very happy with the export potential of many of our smaller companies, which are in niche areas and which are doing well.
In response to Deputy Martin, there are approximately 500 Irish in Shanghai, and a somewhat similar number in Beijing, between the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Le Chéile group and the chamber of commerce. All of them are there because they want to be there. I spoke to a number of young teachers who are out there for a year or two years teaching English in international schools, and it is a broadening of experience for them. In that sense, it adds to the links between China and Ireland from a young person's point of view which, hopefully, can be developed and fostered during the time ahead.
I may drop the Taoiseach or the appropriate Minister a note on the difficulties of the pork producer, who has been in contact with me, in getting his produce into markets in China.
I put it in a slightly different way from other Deputies who have spoken on this issue. I appreciate and understand well Ireland's status and reputation internationally given our history and we are in a unique position to raise these issues of human rights abuses and other injustices, and we must do so. My view is one does it, not merely for the optics or rhetoric, but in a way which engages and seeks to have the problems resolved and mindful also of the integrity of the nation with which one is dealing. Obviously, imprisonment without due process of anyone, particularly of dissidents who are only guilty of using free speech or poetry, is something which is to be deplored. We need to continue raising these matters wherever we come across them, either on this island or anywhere else in the world.
There are unique opportunities, given that we have a functioning Administration in the North, and given that there is a good relationship between the Government and the Executive, and particularly the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, to ensure the fullest co-operation and joined-up position. We should not be in competition, one part of the island with another, in seeking to develop these links. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach was open in promoting the visit by the OFM-DFM in the autumn. In terms of the trade delegation, however, it might be useful to advise as to how such trade delegations would be made up in the future. If there could be a joint, all-island delegation bringing persons from across the island from whatever sector, whether it is software, high-tech, education, agrifood or whatever, that would be very helpful to our own process here and also, obviously, take best advantage of any opportunities in China.
We will continue to raise, without fear or favour, the question of human rights as is right and appropriate, both from an Irish point of view given our long history in that area and also as a member of the European Union.
I had no difficulty at all in explaining to our Chinese counterparts the relationship that exists between the Government here and the Executive in Northern Ireland and to point out that there would be a delegation of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister later on. I also referred to this at the opportunity to speak at the Chancellor's lecture in the University of Ulster last week. For instance, tourism is a non-contentious issue and visitors coming to the island of Ireland have the opportunity to sample the wonderful golf courses of Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway or the other history and cultural facilities that exist there as they do of the rest of Ireland. Given the changes in the visa waiver scheme here, as Deputy Adams will be aware, those landing in Britain can come here without the requirement for a visa which makes it all the more opportune for them to do so. In fact, last week I spoke to Commissioner Tajani who has responsibility for tourism in a European sense and while we have moved some way to being able to get visas online by electronic means, there is consideration for greater flexibility from a European perspective to allow Chinese people to visit Europe, even on a pilot basis. That is an issue that would affect Northern Ireland as well as the Republic.
These all are opportunities. I really want to put out the message that in so far as we are concerned, we will work this agreement hard. We will have our own working groups interact realistically, credibly and vigorously with their Chinese counterparts in the hope that this can provide jobs and opportunities here with exports to China, and also appropriate consideration for investment in Ireland with a view to expansion of our economy, and into Europe. These all are issues with which we are happy to deal.
As I stated in response to Deputy Martin, I see a role for Ireland in a fostering of greater understanding between China and the US on a range of issues. No doubt that would be of interest to both sides.