Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Today marks the one month anniversary of the illegal and brutal invasion and occupation of Ukraine by Russia. Will the Minister outline the current situation and our response to the humanitarian crisis that, unfortunately, is unfolding? Will he also outline what actions we are taking to push for a peaceful resolution to the horrific, barbaric war being inflicted on the Ukrainian people?
Before I answer that question, I wish to take a few moments to recognise the service of Mr. Jim Kelly, who has just been mentioned by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. Jim was a massively important member of the Department of Foreign Affairs team. He was an ambassador and was central to our team in the UN Security Council since we joined that council. He passed away very unexpectedly last weekend. On behalf of the Government and of this House, I wish to recognise an extraordinary career of service to Irish foreign policy and the role he continued to play, as a father figure in many ways, for many of the younger people in the Department and particularly for the team in New York, where our team has performed in an extraordinary way in the face of so many challenges since we joined the UN Security Council. Jim was central to all that. I wish to express my condolences to his wife, Anne, his two daughters, Orla and Ciara, his extended family and his colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The House is happy to support the Minister taking that time and, in particular, the sentiments expressed to his wife, Anne, on the loss she is experiencing at this time, and to his family. Thank you for taking the time to express the thoughts of the Government and the Members.
I appreciate that flexibility, a Chathaoirligh.
On the important question asked by Deputy Brady, since the illegal, unprovoked and unjustified further invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on 24 February, Ireland has stood in unwavering solidarity with the people and Government of Ukraine. Ireland’s response to the invasion has included engagement with EU partners and at the UN, development of sanctions against Russia; bilateral contact with the representatives of Ukraine and of Russia in Ireland and the provision of humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Ireland’s efforts at the UN, EU, the International Criminal Court, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and across all multilateral institutions are aimed at bringing this madness of war to an end, ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and meeting the humanitarian needs of the vast number of people caught in the conflict.
My Department is carefully monitoring the progression of direct talks between Ukraine and Russia. Ireland stands ready to support initiatives which can deliver peace, in line with international law and which respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. The Government is providing €20 million in humanitarian aid as well as medical supplies. Those funds are already being disbursed through partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
At EU level, member states agreed a €500 million package of direct military assistance for Ukraine. On Monday, EU foreign ministers signalled their political approval for an additional €500 million in military support, which was approved last night. Ireland’s total share of that overall fund will be €22 million and will go towards non-lethal elements in that package. EU sanctions were adopted on six occasions which, together, are the most extensive sanctions in EU history. The aim is to incentivise President Putin to find a political solution to the conflict he has created, and to reduce funding and equipment available to Russia to continue its military campaign.
Finally, Ireland fully supports Ukraine's application for EU membership. EU leaders acted swiftly in inviting the European Commission to submit its opinion on Ukraine's application to become a member and will strengthen the bonds and deepen the EU-Ukraine partnership.
Before we continue, Standing Orders dictate the time for Priority Questions. There are six and a half minutes each, and that includes the introduction and ministerial reply. I must stick to that to ensure that everybody gets in. I call Deputy Brady.
I wish to be associated with the Minister's comments about Mr. Jim Kelly. My party leader, Deputy McDonald, earlier this week expressed our condolences to Mr. Kelly's family and his colleagues, including our team in the UN.
I welcome the actions taken by the Government in the response to Ukraine, although we could and should be stronger in many areas. On 5 March, Russia categorised Ireland as being an unfriendly country, along with a number of other countries. What assessment has been carried out and what threat does that pose to Ireland and our security?
Also, does the Minister agree with the comments of the Lithuanian foreign minister when he categorised the actions being taken by Russia as war crimes? Lithuania has moved to expel a number of diplomats, along with Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia where diplomats have been expelled. Is now the time to stop dragging our feet and follow the example of four other European countries and expel Russian diplomats from Ireland?
I thank the Deputy for his questions and for his support of the approach the Government has taken so far. With regard to Ireland being categorised as an unfriendly country, all of the EU has been categorised as being unfriendly towards Russia. That is a term it has used previously, and then it takes action on the back of that. Any actions of the back of that statement a number of weeks ago have not happened yet, but we can expect it will act at some point in time. For example, last year when there was tension between the Czech Republic and Russia, the Czech Republic was named an unfriendly country and Russia took actions on the back of that. We do not know what will happen in that regard. To be honest, there are bigger issues with regard to what is happening in Ukraine right now than what an unfriendly country means for Ireland. We are very much part of the collective effort within the EU to respond in as comprehensive manner as possible to end this war and to ensure we maintain and increase the deterrent for the continuation of the war, which is what the focus of sanctions has been.
I will refer back to the final question, if I can, as I do not have time to answer it.
I would be interested to hear what our response is to the four other European countries that have moved to expel the diplomats, so I will listen with interest in that regard. The other major fallout of this grotesque and illegal war is the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. Last week, the Ukrainian ambassador appeared before the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and she cited the experience in Poland with an Irish company. She alleged Ryanair is ratcheting up prices to profiteer on the back of refugees fleeing from war and persecution. Has the Minister or the Department looked at the charge or allegation that was made by the Ukrainian ambassador? She also welcomed a suggestion from me that Ireland, the Department and the Minister should charter flights to help deal with the refugees who are piling up in their millions in Poland, Moldova, Romania and other countries.
I travelled to Poland last week to meet my counterparts there and to meet refugees. I visited the largest Ukrainian refugee hub in Poland where there were approximately 7,000 people, predominantly women and children and quite a number of elderly people. The scale of human misery and the responsibility for the EU collectively to respond to it are enormous. As the Deputy knows, Ireland will play its part in this. There are many routes to get to Ireland. Geographically we are quite far away from Ukraine by European standards. Certainly there are flight options. Of course there are ferry options and people are using them. With regard to Ryanair I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about this. My understanding is that he was to speak to Ryanair this week on concerns about the prices being charged for certain flights. I can only assume this has happened.