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Irish man detained in China: 'There is no reason for me to be stuck here'

A Seanad debate on O’Halloran’s detention was postponed on Monday at the request of Simon Coveney.

Image: RTÉ Prime Time

A DUBLIN BUSINESS MAN barred from leaving China over a dispute has said the exit ban is having a “devastating effect” on him and his family and hopes authorities “see sense” soon. 

Father of four Richard O’Halloran travelled to China in February 2019 to resolve a row involving the Chinese owner of the aviation firm he worked for and hasn’t seen his family since. 

“I’m a very hands-on father and literally within the blink of an eye that’s all gone,” O’Halloran told RTÉ’s Prime Time in an interview to be broadcast tonight. 

“It’s very difficult for me to process but for the children it’s devastating. It’s very difficult to explain to a five-year-old, now seven, that Daddy’s not coming home for your birthday, your communion, your confirmation or Christmas.”

O’Halloran works for the Dublin-based aircraft leasing company, China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS Ireland) and travelled to Shanghai to resolve a dispute between his employer and Chinese authorities.

Chinese authorities have refused to let the 45-year-old leave after he became embroiled in the dispute, despite not levelling any allegations at him.  

The Chinese embassy said CALS is involved in a case of “illegally collecting funds” from Chinese nationals. There are no allegations of wrongdoing against O’Halloran.

“There is no reason for me to be stuck here. I should be allowed to return home to continue running the Irish entity and returning money to China as I said I will do,” O’Halloran said. 

I think it’s a lack of trust, a breakdown in communication somewhere. I think the judges presiding over the enforcement side of this particular case now are… struggling with the complexities as they perceive it for this transaction.

“My hope is that the Chinese authorities see sense and see that the commercial solution that we are putting forward is the most viable way forward. It’s the best solution for everybody.”

Dublin law firm William Fry, acting on behalf of CALS Ireland, said it is working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs to conclude a deal with the Chinese courts and authorities to bring Richard home. 

A Seanad debate on the fate of Halloran scheduled for Monday morning was postponed for two weeks after Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney contacted Independent Senator Michael McDowell to say negotiations were at a “delicate stage” and that a debate on the matter might “set the process back”. 

McDowell told the Seanad he was giving the “benefit of the doubt” to the department in not having the house debate the matter but that he would move ahead with the motion in two weeks time if the Chinese government and the Department have not secured O’Halloran’s release in the meantime. 

“No Chinese citizen would be treated in this way in this country and the comparative size of our two countries doesn’t justify wolf diplomacy being deployed against Ireland to try and blackmail this man into doing something unlawful,” he said.

O’Halloran is said to be seriously immuno-compromised with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency which raises his risk for lung disease or infection, so has not ventured outside much since the onset of the pandemic. 

After collapsing in August 2020 he spent a week in hospital, returning again for a further four days in December. 

He also suffers from asthma and says he has been severely affected by the adverse air quality in Shanghai.  

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Richard O’Halloran’s full interview will be broadcast at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.  

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Adam Daly

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