Gormley refuses to apologise for China criticism
GREEN Party leader John Gormley was sticking to his guns last night after his backing for Tibet sparked a diplomatic row with China.
He said he would not be apologising for his remarks and denied that they would damage the €5.5bn trade between the State and China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern tried to defuse the situation by saying that that Mr Gormley's reference to Tibet as a country -- which infuriated the Chinese ambassador -- was a "slip of the tongue".
But his Cabinet colleague Mr Gormley said: "There is a thing called freedom of speech which I believe in as a democrat but is not a feature of the Chinese state unfortunately," he said.
The Environment Minister's outspoken comments at the Green Party Ard Fheis prompted a dramatic walk-out from the Chinese ambassador Mr Liu Biwei, and his two staff
But it emerged that Green Party general secretary Colm O Caomhanaigh briefed ambassador Biwei about the references to Tibet in the speech.
"He actually told him what was in it. So I don't understand the statement that was made that there was no advance notice," Mr Gormley said.
The row occurred in Dundalk, the hometown of Dermot Ahern, who had also been briefed in advance about the content of the speech.
He tried to play down the row yesterday by blaming the whole affair on a "slip of the tongue".
"To be honest from what I've heard so far, he called for dialogue which is exactly the same as my position and the Government's position," he said.
Mr Ahern has previously spoken himself about the need for "restraint" and "independent monitors" in Tibet.
But Mr Gormley went much further by condemning "the abuse of human rights" by the Chinese Government and describing Tibet as a country which has been "exploited and suppressed and suffered for far too long".
Mr Gormley has pointed out that he has always felt strongly about Tibet -- he recalled that when he was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1994, he proposed to give its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the freedom of the city.
His outspoken remarks also boosted his popularity with Green party members, many of whom had personally confronted the Chinese ambassador about Tibet at the conference.
Last night, Amnesty International backed Mr Gormley's stance, saying that it had been calling for members of the Government to publicly raise their concerns about human rights abuses in Tibet and other places around the world.