Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Ukraine War

9:50 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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75. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the Government's response to the escalation in the conflict in Ukraine, particularly the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57928/22]

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I am taking this question for Deputy John Brady. I ask the Minister to outline the Government's response to the escalation in the conflict in Ukraine, particularly the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. President Zelensky has spoken about the Russians using cold as a weapon of mass destruction. Everything from energy to the refugee crisis has been weaponised. The Russians have complete belief in hybrid, asymmetrical warfare and we need a response.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Since the further invasion of Ukraine in February, Ireland has been steadfast in its support for the Government and people of Ukraine, and we continue to be today. It is crucial that international law is respected and Ireland has been to the forefront of efforts at the United Nations to hold Russia accountable and to bring an end to the war in Ukraine as soon as possible. We have been consistent and vocal at the Security Council in our condemnation of Russia's actions and in calling out Russian disinformation. Ireland will continue to use our seat at the Security Council to call for an end to Russia's war of aggression, to push for the protection of civilians and to demand real accountability.

Ireland welcomed the eighth EU sanctions package against Russia on 6 October and has called for consideration of further measures to cut off the Kremlin’s remaining sources of revenue. The measures we have imposed are having a significant impact and we will continue to work together with EU partners to maintain this pressure.  The recent large-scale attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine constitute another unacceptable escalation of the war and civilians are paying the highest price. Those responsible must be held to account.

The Government remains deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, particularly as winter approaches and in light of Russia’s ongoing attacks on critical infrastructure. We are grateful to the UN and other partners for their ongoing efforts. We know there is only one way to end the suffering in Ukraine, and that is for Russia to end its illegal war, withdraw its forces from the territory of Ukraine and restore peace.

Ireland’s solidarity with Ukraine is steadfast and resolute. We remain committed to supporting the people and Government of Ukraine for as long as it takes.  Ireland has to date provided €20 million in humanitarian support and has committed almost €70 million in non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. I will shortly be announcing an additional bilateral package of assistance to Ukraine to help address immediate financing needs.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We all know the biggest victims in war are civilians. People were killed in Poland recently, and, unfortunately, this is what happens in war. The Irish people have shown significant solidarity with those dealing with Russian munitions daily. Things are not going particularly well for Vladimir Putin in the war, but the problem in this regard is that he has taken aim at civilians. He has tried to operate any level of asymmetrical warfare or hybrid operations that he thinks will have an impact. We have seen the attacks undertaken and the increase in the number of refugees who we will be dealing with in the near future. This is something Europe must deal with across the board. We have our issues here in this regard as well.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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This is a horrific war. We may have seen up to 250,000 people killed already, and perhaps 200,000 of those have been military personnel on both sides. It is hard to know what the figure is in respect of civilian losses, but it could be anything between 40,000 and 60,000 people, or maybe more. This is horrific. We know the brutality with which civilians have been treated because we have, unfortunately, seen their corpses and mass graves. Many of these people were tortured and brutalised, some with their hands tied behind their backs. This is a horror show in the context of human suffering and this is why Ireland has taken such a clear view concerning this war and why we will continue to take a very clear view in respect of accountability for the war crimes that are likely to have taken place. We will continue to support Ukrainians who have had to flee. Here in Ireland, we now have about 63,000 or 64,000 refugees and this number will continue to grow. Through the European Peace Facility, EPF, we will continue to support the Ukrainian military to defend its people and country. We will also continue to increase the supports we provide from a humanitarian perspective to help the Ukrainian people, or as many as we can, through what is going to be a very difficult winter.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I accept that. We all want this war to end and for Russia to leave the Ukrainian lands its forces have taken. We want to see a peaceful situation restored. Hopefully, there will be a time when a straight player, such as Ireland, will be able to play a role in this regard. We all accept this opening does not seem to be there now, but we must live in hope and be prepared for such a situation.

On a European basis, and beyond, we must deal with the energy crisis. I refer to the specific difficulties we have across Europe, but beyond this I mention as well as the particular issues occurring now in Ukraine as the Russians attempt to freeze people out. We have also had low-level-type hybrid operations undertaken by the Kremlin and the Russian Embassy here. I call for the Russian ambassador to be given his ticket home. I accept this might not be the line the Government is going to espouse, so are we looking at anything from a diplomatic perspective regarding dealing with this embassy?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I can understand the sentiment behind the call for closing the Russian Embassy here and the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. I can understand this anger and frustration when we see images daily of civilians and infrastructure being targeted and homes, apartment complexes, shopping centres and hospitals having been targeted and hit with missiles, drones etc.

I understand that sentiment, but my job is to be a Minister for Foreign Affairs who tries to think ahead and tries to ensure that we have diplomatic channels open, if and when they may be useful in the future.

We have at least 200 people living in Russia. There are probably more, but 200 registered with our embassy there. The embassy in Moscow is also responsible for a number of other countries bordering Russia. Like virtually every other country in the world, maintaining diplomatic channels while at the same time being clear and critical of the role that Russia is playing in this war, the illegality of it and the brutality of it, is the appropriate way to continue our efforts.

One cannot call for Ireland to be ready to make a diplomatic intervention and at the same time shut off diplomatic channels of communication. The two do not go together. Having said that, I understand the frustrations and the sentiment behind that ask.