Beef back on the menu as Taoiseach has lunch with Chinese PM

Li Qiang and Leo Varadkar tucked in to roast Irish Hereford beef sirloin – a sure sign that China was ready to reopen its market for Irish beef

So what do you serve for lunch at Farmleigh House when Chinese premier Li Qiang comes to visit?

Roast Irish Hereford beef sirloin served with smoked cheek, potato and horseradish purée, Iona farm charred celeriac, kale and black garlic jus sounds good.

What are the chances this would have been on the menu if the Irish Government did not have some indication that China was about to reopen its market for Irish beef?

So did Mr Li tuck in?


“He did, yes,” said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar afterwards, adding, “as did I, by the way, just in case there’s any doubts about that,” perhaps still burned from that time he landed himself in hot water with farmers by saying he was cutting back on meat.

Farming organisations were very happy on this occasion with the news that beef exports to China could resume immediately, after they were suspended last November due to a case of atypical BSE.

The reopening market was one of the “tangible” outcomes of the talks, Varadkar said.

Li, seen as the second most powerful politician in China after president Xi Jinping, arrived fresh from the World Economic Forum in Davos on the biggest passenger jet ever to land at Dublin Airport on Tuesday evening accompanied by a legion of officials. A frozen Phoenix Park was closed to traffic for 24 hours due to the engagements in Áras an Uachtaráin and Farmleigh. Some 28 journalists also travelled.

Chinese state news organisations present included the People’s Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party. With less than 24 hours in Dublin the Chinese press corps did not have much time for sightseeing. However, the media bus passing the Guinness brewery prompted a murmur of excitement and the odd mobile phone snap. There was not a great deal of interaction between the Irish and Chinese press contingent, some of whom at least were reluctant to offer views on their impression of Ireland and the visit of their prime minister.

But then, freedom of the press is not exactly something that China is known for.

Human rights matters were broached by President Michael D Higgins and Varadkar during their respective meetings with Li. Varadkar said he “raised our concerns about the situation in Xinjiang, in Tibet and Hong Kong ... and also the forthcoming trial of [Hong Kong newspaper publisher] Jimmy Lai”. The Taoiseach said afterwards the Chinese government was willing to have the issues raised but “would have a very different view of the facts and would dispute a lot of what has been said about China in the media”.

Human rights were not the main focus of talks. Bilateral relations, trade and economic ties, climate change, the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine were all discussed. In his toast before lunch Varadkar hailed 45 years of diplomatic relations, “flourishing people-to-people ties” and “cultural exchange”.

Chinese students studying the works of WB Yeats and Riverdance performing in China this spring got a mention later.

Varadkar told the Chinese prime minister: “Of course we won’t find agreement on everything but I hope we’ll always speak frankly and respectfully to each other and candidly as we did today.”

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