Committee members have certainly given me much to respond to in the few minutes left to do so. I appreciate the comments and suggestions made and the committee's willingness to move forward on the issue. I know Deputy Murphy raised a question with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I saw it on the record and appreciate her doing that. It is an indication of the seriousness the committee has shown on the issue.
I will try to address the questions and comments raised. Deputy Carey asked about the Chinese response. The Chinese authorities have responded in different ways around the world and have responded formally to our report in statements. We have responded to those statements and this response is in the appendix to our report and is available on the Internet where committee members are welcome to read it.
In brief, our conclusion was that the Chinese response was unresponsive. Basically, the response attacked the Falun Gong. This reaction is part of the problem and not an answer to our concerns. The Chinese authorities also attacked us personally, which does not convince us and, hopefully, will not convince the committee. They did not deal with the merits of the factual basis for our concerns.
One of the reasons we came to the conclusion in our revised report that our original conclusions were right was that the Chinese Government, with all the resources and information at its disposal, did not produce anything factually to contradict our report. That in itself is something that leads us to believe the conclusions in our written report were right. Putting that aside, our rapporteur on torture has been trying to get the Chinese Government to engage the issue on its merits and substance, rather than just slinging out insults and creating obstructions. It is a general problem with China that human rights dialogue tends to be unproductive, not just in this area. Nonetheless, it is worth pursuing dialogue.
In terms of different responses from the provinces or hospitals, we have been dealing directly with hospitals and their responses are part of our evidence and support. We get reports of admissions at local levels which are denied at national level. The Chinese Government says publicly in reply to our report that what we say is happening is illegal and therefore cannot be happening, yet the deputy Minister of Health made a public statement in the media that the law is not being applied, but should be. There are, indeed, different statements from officials at different levels. Obviously, we are hampered in pursuing that as we are not able to go to China.
I accept the committee only has a short timeframe to deal with information and it may be difficult to get to the bottom of the matter. However, at the level at which the committee can do something, it may not be necessary for it to come to any conclusions on the report, although I would welcome it doing so. No matter what the committee's conclusions about the allegations, it is incontestable that the precautions that should be put in place to prevent this sort of practice from happening are not in place in China, Ireland or anywhere else. Our global system does not prevent this practice from happening. It should not be necessary to show there is torture to put in place precautions to prevent it nor should it be necessary to show there are arbitrary executions to put in place precautions to prevent those executions. These practices are reprehensible no matter whether we can prove they are happening in a particular place and time. One can say the same about organ harvesting. In terms of the short period of time available, that is something the committee could easily do.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of a travel advisory in her parliamentary question. In reply, the Minister said "No" to a travel advisory, but said he would urge extreme caution to anyone considering travelling to China for transplant surgery. If he is prepared to say that publicly, why can he not say it on a website in a travel advisory. He could put his own words on a website. Something as simple as that might be useful.
Pharmaceutical companies may say that banning all anti-rejection drugs is drastic, but the point is not that drugs are being banned from going to China or that transplant surgery in China is being banned. The point is to ban the drugs where we do not know there is consent. The onus of establishing consent should be on the pharmaceutical companies, the patients going to China and on the doctors referring to China. It should not be a system where we turn a blind eye and it is okay unless we know there is no consent. This is the problem with proving a negative.
In terms of further research, seeking consent is an obvious way of getting further information. If we ask the Chinese authorities whether there is consent, they will say "Yes, everybody consents". However, where is the evidence of that consent? I have never seen any. No doctor or patient I have talked to has ever seen any such consent which makes one wonder whether there are even consent forms. What is the system for generating consents? It would be useful to follow that avenue.
I agree the EU-China dialogue should be as specific as possible. I would add, however, that this is an issue that should not just be relegated to the dialogue. This was the problem we had in Canada. We had a China-Canada dialogue and that sort of ended human rights concerns. I suggest the Irish Government should bring human rights concerns about China to the UN human rights consul, to the UN General Assembly and to bilateral contacts with China.
The Olympic Games represent a particular opportunity to raise the issue. Dealing with the Chinese Government is always difficult, but if nothing is done in the context of the build up to the Olympics, China gets the message that everything is okay. The Chinese authorities can say to themselves that if they are able to do it even in the context of the Olympics, it is not a concern to the international community. We should not let China be able to say that.
The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is a separate issue. Some issues are incontestable. One can contest the allegation but not the source of organ harvesting in China, which is from prisoners, whatever the combination of prisoners. The issue may be which prisoners this practice is performed on but there is no issue with the source of the practice being prisoners, as there is no other source there except for a few hundred people where family consents are given.
Another incontestable is that Falun Gong practitioners are persecuted. One can argue as to whether it takes this form but there is no doubt they are persecuted. Every effort should be made to stop that persecution and to cease the practice of organ harvesting from all prisoners. Obviously organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners is wrong but organ harvesting from prisoners sentenced to death is also wrong because there is no meaningful consent given when people are sentenced to death. I am not aware of any other country where the death penalty exists that allows organ harvesting from prisoners sentenced to death. It is not allowed in the United States because it is acknowledged that such consent is not meaningful. That aspect should be addressed.
The third incontestable is that the necessary precautionary measures are not in place to prevent these practices from happening. If the committee is working within a short timeframe and time does not permit it to follow through a complete investigation of all the avenues that might be explored, I would gravitate towards these incontestables and try to address them not only in regard to China but in regard to what is going on here.
I have met transplant professionals in many countries and generally they are hostile to and concerned about this practice. They consider it an abuse of their profession and the technology they have developed. Members of the committee would find that these professionals are concerned and co-operative, as are the members, in trying to come to grips with this practice. However, in spite of their concerns, they have not done everything they could do. Their ethical practices could be developed more strongly. I met a member of the ethics committee of the Transplantation Society, which is its international arm, and it has developed a statement on contact with China and Chinese transplant professionals, but it does not go far enough. That could be developed locally in terms of ethics. The society is still developing an ethical statement on transplant tourism and one should be developed locally. A reporting system needs to be put in place — to my knowledge there is not one in place in Ireland — whereby people in the profession here could report cases of people they meet who have gone to China for transplant surgery. That information should be at least collated, consolidated and made available to the Government and to the health system.
The committee needs to examine the issue of funding. Is the Government funding transplants abroad? Is it funding the after-care of individuals who have had transplants abroad on their return to Ireland? As far as I can establish it is not funding transplant surgery abroad but it may well be funding the after-care of individuals on their return home having had transplant surgery abroad. It should not do so if individuals are travelling to China for transplant surgery. These are the types of avenues that could be usefully explored.
As the maxim states, I would not let the better be the enemy of the good. While much could be done to help promote this issue in the long term, there is much the committee could do even in the short term.
A question was asked about our contract with other NGOs, IGOs and governments. We have talked to many people. I have met representatives of Human Rights Watch in New York, Human Rights in China in New York and I have had much contact with various Amnesty International professionals, including Mark Allison, the Hong Kong researcher for Amnesty International. I have also met the UN special rapporteur on torture, many representatives of Governments and parliamentarians and each of them is trying to address and investigate this issue in their own way.
To a certain extent, people are stymied by the nature of the allegation and how to get to grips with it, where everything is happening behind closed doors, records are not available, victims have gone and the perpetrators will not confess. That is a methodological problem which everybody has to face and that will not change. It is simply the nature of the situation.
I have to commend the work of the UN special rapporteur on torture who has been pressing this issue. Ireland could help the UN special rapporteur on torture to try to get meaningful responses from the Government of China to the questions he has been asking and generally press this issue at every opportunity that presents.