Beijing should release Irishman as Chinese New Year ‘gesture’, says TD

EU MEPs write to China’s envoy about continued detention of Richard O’Halloran

China should use the occasion of the Chinese New Year on Friday to permit businessman Richard O'Halloran to return home to Ireland, the chairman of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee has said.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, a former minister for foreign affairs, said China's continued refusal to allow the Dublin businessman leave the country for almost two years could strain and "put a blemish on" Irish-Chinese relations.

Mr O'Halloran, a 45-year-old father of four from Foxrock in south Co Dublin, has been prevented from leaving China after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute involving the Chinese owner of a Dublin-based aircraft leasing company he works for.

“The occasion of the Chinese New Year should be used as a gesture to lift the travel restriction which is unacceptable because of the fact that he has not been charged with any offence, he has done no wrong and he is a mere witness,” said Mr Flanagan.

In the first intervention by EU authorities in the case, the chairman of the European Parliament's China delegation, Reinhard Bütikofer, and two vice-chairs have written to the head of the Chinese mission to the European Union, ambassador Zhang Ming, expressing strong concern about Mr O'Halloran's detention.

This follows a letter sent by Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald to Mr Bütikofer and to Mr Zhang, urging them to help resolve the case.


She also called on EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to intervene on Mr O'Halloran's behalf.

Ms Fitzgerald said China’s continued bar on him leaving the country “should be a major source of concern” given the closer economic ties between the EU and China.

In light of the recent EU-China investment treaty, it should be a significant concern “that an Irish and EU citizen is effectively being detained against their will for such a period,” she said.

“Every effort must be made to bring Richard O’Halloran home urgently. It has now been two years of anguish for him and his family,” she said.

Mr O'Halloran has assisted the Chinese in their prosecution of Min Jiedong, the owner of Dublin firm China International Aviation Leasing Service (CIALS). The Chinese businessman has been jailed for running a crowdfunding scheme, which are illegal in China, to raise funds to buy an aircraft leased to a Finnish airline.

Despite his co-operation with the Chinese authorities, Mr O’Halloran has not been allowed to leave China. The Chinese government wants him to help secure the return of €50 million out of €160 million raised by more than 7,000 Chinese nationals used to buy the aircraft.


Mr Flanagan suggested that any evidence still to be taken from Mr O’Halloran could be done so remotely and “in a way that doesn’t require his detention for a period of two years”.

He noted that the Chinese government had used the China’s Lunar New Year holiday to release prisoners in the past and could extend this gesture to Mr O’Halloran.

The Oireachtas foreign affairs committee has written to the Chinese ambassador in Dublin about Mr O’Halloran.

The businessman started working for the Dublin-based aviation company after the crowdfunding scheme and travelled to China in February 2019 in an attempt to sort out the company’s affairs there.

He was issued with a travel ban when he attempted to leave the country. He is living in a hotel and has been interrogated by and appeared as a witness in court several times during his time.

A spokesman for the O’Halloran family said the businessman had no comment to make at this time.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times