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Irish MEPs call on Chinese government to allow Dublin man return home

Richard O’Halloran from Foxrock hasn’t seen his family since February 2019.

Richard O'Halloran pictured with his wife Tara.
Richard O'Halloran pictured with his wife Tara.
Image: SaveRichardNow/Twitter

IRISH MEPS HAVE called on the Chinese government to allow a Dublin businessman to leave the country after he was subjected to an exit ban almost two years ago.

Richard O’Halloran from Foxrock hasn’t seen his wife and four children since February 2019 when he travelled to the country to resolve a row involving the Chinese owner of the aviation firm he worked for. 

Chinese authorities are refusing to let the 45-year-old leave, despite not levelling any allegations at him. 

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly, alongside Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews, raised the issue in EU Parliament today “as there is no legitimate reason for him to be kept against his will”.

“He was just unfortunate enough to be caught up in an investigation into another individual, whom he had never met during the period in which the investigation is focused,” Kelly said during a debate on the crackdown on the democratic opposition in Hong Kong. 

O’Halloran’s family have been campaigning for the Irish government to do more to ensure Richard’s return, with their petition garnering over 12,000 signatures so far. 

Tweet by @Seán Kelly MEP Source: Seán Kelly MEP/Twitter

During the debate, Kelly was also critical of the recent arrest of 53 opposition figures in Hong Kong under the controversial national security law. 

“This is the latest in a long series of arrests of the Democratic opposition, and other actions aimed at undermining democratic institutions in Hong Kong,” Kelly said. 

Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong earlier this year after protests in 2019 that started over an extradition bill and expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the former British colony.

The law outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs. It has constricted free speech in the city, and democracy activists see it as a way to suppress dissent.

Following the debate, MEPs overwhelmingly passed a resolution which broadly condemned the crackdown on Hong Kong activists by the central government in China.

The resolution also called for “targeted sanctions” against Chinese and Hong Kong officials held responsible for the police action.

Ahead of today’s vote, Barry Andrews told EuroParl Radio that China should make a goodwill gesture if it wants to do business with the European Union.

The EU and China approved an investment deal in principle on 30 December after seven years of negotiations. The Europeans hope that the investment pact will pry open the lucrative billion-plus Chinese market for their businesses, offering a needed boost after the Covid slump.

The EU moved ahead despite voicing concern about China’s human rights record, including its mass incarceration of at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims.

The pact marked a major win for China after a concerted push by the Trump administration to isolate it, including by encouraging all nations to drop fifth-generation internet from telecom giant Huawei, saying it poses security risks.

“I think if we are going to sign an investment agreement with China, we have to see measures of goodwill, gestures of goodwill by the Chinese administration,” Andrews said. 

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“The first thing they need to do is an amnesty for EU citizens that are detained in China without charge, without investigation, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

The opinion of EU lawmakers is important as they will need to approve the investment deal that was agreed in principle last month, though the vote is not expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

The resolution said that MEPs “regret” that the EU-China investment talks were not seized “as a leverage tool aimed at preserving Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as well as its basic rights and freedoms”.

“By rushing to reach this agreement while not taking concrete action against ongoing, grave human right violations, for example in Hong Kong, Xinjiang province and Tibet, the EU risks undermining its credibility as a global human rights actor,” it said.

The resolution said parliament will “carefully scrutinise” the agreement and will take the human rights situation in China into account when it votes on the deal.

The Chinese Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs have been contacted for comment. 

-With reporting from AFP

 
 

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Adam Daly

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