Monday, 15 February 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
It was my intention to draw the attention of the House to the motion in my name and the names of other Senators, including Senators from all groups and parties in this House, namely, No. 8 on the Order Paper concerning the fate of Mr. Richard O'Halloran who is being detained in China. Last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, called me about this motion and requested that, because the matter was at a delicate stage of negotiation, I not have the House debate this matter in case it might set that process back. I regard any request of that kind by a Minister very seriously and not as one to be lightly disregarded.
I have been involved in attempting to have Mr. O'Halloran's fate and the cruel treatment of him dealt with since last year. I told the Minister I would consult Mr. O'Halloran's family about his request and that he could help by indicating the detail of what steps his Department was taking. Years ago, the former Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Pádraig Ó hUiginn, said to me somewhat cynically that there were three stages for Iveagh House in any matter: the stage at which it was premature to do anything, the stage at which at it was too sensitive and the stage at which it was too late. I am giving the benefit of the doubt to the Department in not having the House debate this matter today but I emphasise an article by Ms Justine McCarthy in The Sunday Timesoutlining the great suffering to him and his family. I circulated it to all Members of the House today. No Chinese citizen would be treated in this way in this country and the comparative size of our two countries does not justify wolf diplomacy being deployed against Ireland to try to blackmail this man into doing something unlawful.
On a further point, the Department of Foreign Affairs was renamed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade but we cannot trade the rights of an Irish citizen to have full representation by this State to vindicate his rights and secure his freedom. No question of Irish exports to China or whether the Chinese Government would be offended by anything that is said in this House should colour our treatment of this matter. The time has come for this House to speak on this issue and I am affording the Minister a two-week opportunity to produce results in this matter. I intend, in two weeks' time, to move an Order of Business amendment to have this all-party motion fully debated if the Chinese Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs have not secured Mr. O'Halloran's release in the meantime.