Statement by Neil Steedman, Founder Chairman of Tibet Support Group -Ireland, to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ireland, on Thursday 18th December 2003.
I thank the members of this Committee for giving me the opportunity to add some words to those just presented. As a visitor coming to ask something of the Irish Government, as an experienced diplomat, and as a typically polite Tibetan, Mrs Takla has, quite legitimately,pointed out some of the many occasions on which the Irish Government and people have expressed their solid support for the cause of the Tibetan people. I would add to that list the publicly-stated support for the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination made by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when in China a few years ago.
TSG-Ireland believes that that support continues to be as solid as it ever was among the Irish people. It is my duty to point out, however, that on a number of occasions over the past decade or so the Irish Government has been – and I struggle to be as diplomatic as Mrs Takla here – not as supportive of the Tibetan people as it could or should be.
In 1989/90 the party in Government announced its intention to vote against Senator Mary Robinson’s motion on Human Rights in Tibet – resulting in her strategic decision to withdraw the motion from the Senate. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Dublin a few years later, the Charles Haughey-led Cabinet chose not to meet him and President Mary Robinson was, let’s say, “discouraged” from meeting him. To her ever-lasting credit, President Robinson opted to meet the Dalai Lama in her private capacity – a decision that subsequently resulted in two Ministers, Bertie Ahern and Mary O’Rourke, also choosing to meet him in their privaie capacities. I am certain ihat Minister Des O’Malley would also have so chosen had he not been in A_ia on a trade mission. Given the posts currently occupied by Bertie Ahern and Mary O’Rourke, I do retain at least some hope of the present Government.
However, this time last year the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that Ireland would not sponsor or promote an EU Resolution on human rights in Tibet or China at the 2003 UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. It has also, to date, not been positive about the many requests for the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs. Furthermore, on 5th November 2003, in written answer to a question put by Aengus 0 Snodiagh, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, told the Dail that: “Ireland established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979, and has, from that time, recognised Tibet as an integral part of China.”
The second part of that statement is untrue. Some members of this Committee will remember that I raised this issue during my previous meeting with you ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ and that my assertion that Ireland did NOT recognise Tibet as an integral part of China in 1979 was confirmed by then Committee member Michael O’Kennedy, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time. Neither was it Ireland’s position up to the mid-1990s. I invite Minister Cowen and this Committee to ask his Department officials to produce documentary evidence to substantiate his Dail reply. Such a position, if now held without Dail debate or approval, is not only contrary to international law and anti-Tibetan, but is damaging to the very Sino-Tibetan dialogue that the Irish Government claims to support.
Mrs Takla has primarily come to Dublin to request the Irish Government; during its forthcoming EU Presidency, to implement the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs. If I am not mistaken, the current position of the Irish Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs is similar to that voiced by the European Commission in a written response of 2nd September 2003 to a question from UK MEP Bill Newton Dunn concerning the Commission Budget provision – in line B8-012 – for such an appointment: “In the light of these developments [the recent visits to Tibet and China by envoys of the Dalai Lama], it wonders whether the appointment of an EU Special Envoy for Tibet would in any way enhance the current dialogue mechanism and whether, moreover, it would not be liable to trigger a reaction from China that would compromise the process of reconciliation initiated between the Tibetan representatives and the Chinese authorities and divest the Union of any mediating capacity.”
Mrs Takla has just given the Tibetans’ answer to the second part of that position, when she stated: “We believe the appointment of such an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs will be interpreted by the leadership in Beijing as an indication of the seriousness of the European Union in facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Tibetan issue.” As for the Commission’s and Irish Government’s “wonderings” about whether such an appointment will enhance the current dialogue, the answer is that an EU Special Representative for Tibetan Affairs has been requested by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, by his two Envoys – who are at the very forefront of that dialogue, by the democratically elected Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) and Kashag (Cabinet) of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and by the democratically elected Assembly of Tibetan Peoples Deputies (the Tibetan Parliament in Exile) – as well as by the recently released Tibetan prisoners of conscience and victims of Chinese torture mentioned by Mrs Takla: Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Ngawang Choephel and Ngawang Sangdrol, and also by the European Parliament. My belief is that the Tibetans themselves know what will enhance or hinder the current dialogue – far better than Irish or EU politicians and civil servants. If the Irish Government fails to respond positively to these requests, TSG-Ireland will conclude that the legacy of Frank Aiken, who championed the cause of the Tibetan people at the United Nations, has been well and truly driven out of Leinster House. I ask this Committee to ensure that, on the contrary, his legacy is brought back to prominence in Irish and EU foreign affairs.
Thank you again for your time and for your attention.