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Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
richard o'halloran

Government should have done more sooner for Richard O'Halloran, says Róisín Shortall

The Irish businessman returned home yesterday after being detained in China for nearly three years.

CO-LEADER OF the Social Democrats Róisín Shortall has accused the government of “reticence” in returning businessman Richard O’Halloran home from China, where he was “effectively detained” for nearly three years.

Shortall said that O’Halloran’s detainment was “an outright violation of human rights” that should not have taken three years to resolve.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, she said: “Richard O’Halloran was in China doing business. He was effectively detained by the Chinese authorities. That was an illegal move. That was a very clear human rights issue.

“I don’t know why it took three years for that man to be released,” she continued. “I think there’s a bit of a problem with a reticence on the part of government here because we do so much business and so much trade with China. There’s a reticence about taking up and pursuing human rights violations. I really feel that this should have been resolved earlier than three year.”

O’Halloran was reunited with his family yesterday after a deal was struck between Irish and Chinese authorities, allowing him to finally return home.

The businessman had been prevented from leaving China since February 2019 when he travelled to Shanghai to resolve an ongoing commercial and legal issue involving the Chinese owner of the firm he works for – Dublin-based aircraft leasing company China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS Ireland).

The dispute predated his employment with the company.

Responding to a query on whether the government taking a hard line could have made the situation worse, Shortall said: “I accept that there is a need for diplomacy. But three years is an awful long time for a man to be detained illegally in an outright violation of human rights. And I don’t know why more wasn’t made of this at an earlier stage.”

Also speaking on the programme, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said that he agreed that O’Halloran’s situation went on for too long, “and shows different standards of human rights in some parts of the world”.

But, he said, “the Irish government didn’t cause this – the Irish government did everything possible to get Richard O’Halloran home, and thank God he’s home.

“China is not a country which has the human rights standards that we have,” Byrne said. “And I think that is very, very important in all of our public discourse that we keep going back to basics and reminding ourselves of the importance of human rights, also point out countries that don’t share our perspective on what the important human rights are.

“People will read into what happened and make their own decisions about the People’s Republic of China.”

Cathal Berry, an independent TD for Kildare South, said that future trade deals or commercial arrangements with countries like China should explicitly state that “any kind of commercial hostage-taking like this is completely prohibited. And it should be explicitly codified in that document”.

Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny added that “we are a small country, but at the same time we have big clout – we can network all over the world. And I think we should be using every possible way we can to ensure that there is safety for the people who are carrying out business in whatever part of the world that they are in and that international business norms and international laws adhere to and in this situation.

“I think the Chinese government clearly held this man basically as hostage, and it was clearly illegal and wrong, and a terrible scenario for him and his family to have to endure for so long”, he said.

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that the travel restrictions placed on O’Halloran in China had been lifted.

“The Minister wishes to acknowledge the recent cooperation of the Chinese Embassy in Ireland and of the Chinese authorities, and to thank all those who have assisted in achieving this positive outcome,” the statement said.

A number of opposition politicians criticised Coveney for thanking the Chinese authorities who had detained O’Halloran.

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