Trinity’s Dalai Lama disgrace

There was a very important story from Mark Tighe in the Sunday Independent yesterday, which you can read in full here:

A Trinity College Dublin committee rejected the nomination of the Dalai Lama for an honorary degree — after former president Mary McAleese, the Trinity chancellor, raised concerns about a “serious” backlash from the Chinese government.

The Sunday Independent has established that the Trinity committee that makes recommendations on honorary degrees to the university’s board, met on December 16, 2019, in the university’s Long Room Hub.

The proposed conferring of an honorary degree to the Tibetan spiritual leader was on the agenda.

The committee had previously agreed to recommend the Dalai Lama for the award — but decided to reassess this, after concerns were raised about potential “repercussions”, in light of a 2008 incident when London Metropolitan University was forced to apologise to China for honouring the Dalai Lama.

There’s an old, and very accurate proverb, which says that if you want to find out who your rulers are, first find out who you are not allowed to offend. In that context, it is worth noting that for all of the talk about Ireland’s long periods under the allegedly relentless jackboot of British Empire and Papacy in turn, offending both the British Monarchy and the See of Saint Peter is practically a national sport.

Offending the Chinese Communist Party, by contrast, is something that the Irish establishment cower at the very though of.

Worth thinking about, that.

It’s helpful also, though, to know that all those people who have been conferred with Trinity College’s honorary degrees in recent years do pass the basic test of not offending the Communist Party of China.

Over the weekend, my colleague Matt Treacy reported on an office of the Chinese State police which operates openly, and with apparent impunity, from Capel Street in Dublin. The existence of such offices of the Chinese State globally has been linked by critics of China to that state’s persecution of Chinese dissidents in exile: The party boasts that in recent years, over 200,000 “criminals” have been repatriated to China from around the world. Often times, this is done – it is alleged – by having Chinese officials from such offices approach a dissident living overseas and pointing out to them that their relatives in China live in parts of that country with – ahem – very unpredictable murder rates. The implication is generally enough to convince the more noble-minded to return home to save their families, even at the cost of their own persecution.

If you are waiting on the Irish State to take action on this kind of thing, well. You’ll be waiting a while.

I wish that there was something especially intelligent or insightful to write here, but there isn’t. We all know, I think – those of us who pay attention to this stuff – what the official Irish attitude to China is. That attitude is that they are a source of income and trade, and therefore we shut up and do not offend them. Other countries which are a source of income and trade – like the United States, the United Kingdom, and, to a lesser extent, Israel – we may offend and criticise at will. In other words, being a tyrannical and brutal state earns you the respect and acquiescence of the Irish establishment, while being broadly democratic and liberal earns you their open contempt. All while that establishment preaches about human rights and progressivism. As a country, we’re like that weedy little fellow in the school playground who sucks up to the bully and shares his condemnations of others, just to save ourselves.

Perhaps this is just the way of the world. But it is interesting to note those things for which we are willing to make ourselves poorer, and those things for which we are not. The state has no difficulty, for example, in pursuing economically delinquent policies to save the climate – even as, ironically, China goes in the opposite direction. But it will cower away from standing up for freedom of thought and expression if it means that we might export less baby formula to Shanghai.

All of this, to me, at least, deprives the Irish state of any moral authority, or submission to its demands for loyalty or respect. I do not know, for example, how anybody can listen to Mary McAleese rabbiting on about how dreadful it is that the Catholic church thinks homosexuality is a sin, while being afraid to give the Dalai Lama a degree for fear that the murderers in Beijing might get upset. She is not a serious person, and she should not be treated as one. She is, however, broadly regarded as one of our finest stateswomen. That, I think, says a lot.

By the way, I’ll leave you with this thought: When the forthcoming hate speech legislation becomes law in Ireland, do we think the Chinese Embassy will be pleased, or displeased? Because I suspect that life for Chinese dissidents overseas, at least in Ireland, might be about to become harder.


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