Senator Katherine Zappone
I ask the Leader to clarify if the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill will take more than an hour.
I focus my substantive question for the Leader on the new relationship Ireland is developing with China and echo the remarks of Senators O’Brien and Bacik. There is no doubt that Ireland’s strengthening relationship with China will bring about important opportunities for trade and investment. I was not the only one watching as events unfolded who felt proud to be Irish in view of what was happening in terms of the developing a relationship with the Chinese.
In tandem with this development - Senator Bacik has touched on it - we must engage in a respectful and robust dialogue on human rights issues. It is disappointing that Irish authorities did not raise individual cases of human rights abuses with the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during his visit. It is not unusual to raise individual cases with other nation states in the context of diplomatic and trade negotiations. There are often opportunities to make breakthroughs on individual cases that enable the release of certain prisoners. For example, when the Chinese delegation met our President, a noted human rights activist and poet, I could not help but think of another human rights activist and poet, Liu Xiaobo. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He is currently imprisoned there since 2009 for inciting the subversion of State power. As many Members are aware, religious expression is also widely curtailed in China. Such activists, as well as democracy activists and reformers, are often repressed. Amnesty International has described human rights violation in China as staggering. Human rights is a critical issue. Ireland seeks election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. As we put ourselves forward for that election UN member states will examine our dialogue with other countries. The further development of our relationship with China is a prime opportunity to demonstrate our deftness as an honest broker and objective champion of human rights across the world.
I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste, or one of the other three Minsters that will travel to China later this year, to come here and have a debate on Ireland’s relationship with China in the context of trade, investment and human rights. One of the key roles of the Seanad is to debate such important matters in a non-partisan way and bring to the discussion our expertise from a range of sectors.