Seanad debate on Irishman detained in China postponed as talks at ‘delicate stage’

Simon Coveney asked senators not to hold debate on release of Richard O’Halloran

A Seanad debate on the fate of Irishman Richard O’Halloran who is being detained in China has been postponed for two weeks because talks are at a “delicate stage of negotiation”.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney contacted him last week about the motion and requested that "because the matter is at a delicate state of negotiation" that the House would not debate the matter "in case it might set that process back".

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.

He has been ordered to pay $36 million (€29.7 million) to the Chinese authorities before he can leave the country.

Mr O’Halloran has spent most of the time in his hotel to avoid contracting Covid-19 because of an underlying lung condition.

Mr McDowell said he was giving the department “the benefit of the doubt” in not having the Seanad debate the matter on Monday.

‘Wolf diplomacy’

“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.

“No question of Irish exports to China or how they would deal this way or that or whether the Chinese government would be offended by anything that’s said in this House should colour our treatment of this matter.”

He said he intended to move for the debate to take place in two weeks’ time “if the Chinese government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have not secured Mr O’Halloran’s release in the meantime”.

Seanad leader Regina Doherty said: "We need to do absolutely everything we can to make sure we get him home.

“I will absolutely have no issue in debating or scheduling a debate in the next number of weeks. I think you have unanimous support in this House, in any house in Ireland, for the absolute safe return of Richard O’Halloran to his wife and his children.”