C: Alessia Pierdomenico / shuttestock.com

Official Ireland’s obeisance to China not helping Richard O’Halloran 

The Winter Olympics are due to begin on Friday week with an opening ceremony to be held at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing. Ireland is sending a team of 6 to the games who will participate in 5 separate events.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland considered whether they ought to boycott the games as a protest against China’s appalling human rights record, but decided in December that such a gesture would serve no purpose, and made the point that “sometimes, sport is used a bit unjustly to try and deal with geo-political problems that should be dealt with in other ways.”

Which is a valid argument. Sports people ought not to bear the responsibility for such matters, although they do have a moral choice obviously. Besides, no state is preventing its athletes from travelling to the games. There is however what effectively amounts to a diplomatic boycott by ten states specifically related to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, general human rights abuses, and, in the case of Lithuania, that country’s support for Taiwan against the background of increased intimidation by Beijing.

Ireland, of course, will not be among those countries participating in any boycott either of the opening ceremony or of the other official events surrounding what the regime is celebrating as yet another validation, similar to the Nazi hosting of the actual Olympics in Berlin in 1936, of their authoritarian rule. That, by the way, is not an example of Godwin’s Law. It is a valid comparison of two aspects of the vile totalitarianism that still threatens humanity in this century.

The Party’s People’s Daily is positively gloating about all of this and loses no opportunity to rub the noses of it’s enemies as when it contrasts the participation of athletes from Lithuania with the “provocations” of the “tiny Baltic state” in relation to the sovereignty of Taiwan.

Gript reported in April 2021 on a letter that was sent by six members of Seanad Éireann; Senators Rónán Mullen, Sharon Keoghan, Lynn Ruane, Victor Boylan, Michael McDowell and David Norris to the Olympic Council of Ireland urging them to at least consider not participating as an official delegation under the Irish flag.

As the Senators pointed out, the games will be used by the Chinese state to legitimise its conduct with regard to the Uyghur genocide, but there is also the issue of the regime’s treatment of an Irish citizen, Richard O’Halloran, who has been detained against his will since February 2019.

Gript has covered this on a number of occasions, pointing out both the background to O’Halloran’s detention, and the less than proactive response by the Irish state when asked by the family and others to take action on his behalf.

The same excuses continue to be trotted out when the case is raised publicly. Senators and others who have pressed for a more public stance to be taken have continually being told with a nod and a wink that there’s all sorts of things going on behind the scenes.

Well, that’s obviously not the case. Indeed, if O’Halloran had even been guilty of a similar offence, as appears to be implied by the Chinese authorities, in any normal jurisdiction he would have most likely have finished his sentence by now. He has not been tried or convicted of anything in China.

On January 19, when Aontú leader Peadar Toíbín referred to the fact that neither the Taoiseach nor the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have “been directly involved in this for a long period,” and that perhaps there are “economic or bigger reasons” which explain why the Irish state is not “defending its citizen,” Micheál Martin responded in the usual fashion.

Firstly, he suggested that Toíbín raise the issue with the Minister directly, something that has been done by several people on behalf of the O’Halloran family for almost three years now, and followed that by claiming that the matter has been raised at the highest level with the Chinese government.

And of course, he did not want “to say anything more than that,” because, well you know yourself. I think we do. Surely a state that is clearly considered to be one of the Chinese Communist Party’s bestest friends in the EU might be given some consideration? Is there no gratitude for the fact that three former party leaders including two former Taoisigh and one former Tánaiste are clearly friends of China?

It would appear that O’Halloran’s rights as an Irish citizen count for nothing when it comes down to the fact that an allegedly friendly state is detaining the citizen of another ostensibly friendly state for no valid reason that might be justified under normal as opposed to totalitarian legal theory.

It ought also be noted that while one online leftist site hosted a poll asking people whether the 2013 Winter Olympics held in Sochi in Russia ought to have been boycotted over LGBT issues, they appear to have not had any concerns over the Chinese Communist state which treats gay people equally badly as everyone else.

The silence from the rest of the political and media establishment is as equally telling. On the other hand, the Irish Socialist Party has called for a boycott and pointed out the pretty much toothless nature of a diplomatic boycott which can be ignored by the regime once they can still show the flags of the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom flying in Beijing at the opening ceremony and during medal presentations.

Credit where credit is due, even when that accrues to one’s opponents.

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