There are four Irish babies newly born to surrogate Ukrainian mothers in a maternity hospital in the country's capital Kyiv, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar disclosed details about the previously unknown number of babies in Ukraine while making the case against the expulsion of Russia's ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov.
The Fine Gael leader was speaking about the need to maintain relations with Russia despite growing public and political calls for Mr Filatov's expulsion over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
“There are four babies in the Ukraine at the moment in a maternity hospital in Kyiv and that hospital could be under Russian occupation within weeks. We need to be able to talk to the Russians,” he told RTÉ’s News at One.
Irish couples having babies through surrogacy mothers via private clinics in Ukraine have urged the Government not to expel Mr Filatov over concerns that they may not be able to get their children out of the war zone should the Russians take control of Ukraine.
Residents of Kyiv face increased risks of attack from the Kremlin’s advance on the Ukrainian capital as satellite images show a large Russian military convoy heading towards Kyiv.
Russia’s defence ministry warned residents of Kyiv on Tuesday to leave their homes ahead of planned military strikes on Ukrainian government buildings in and around the city.
Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney, who is helping the Irish couples, said there was a need to keep "a diplomatic line open" with the Russians in the event that the Government needs to call on Moscow's assistance to evacuate the Irish babies.
She said that “all options” were being explored to find ways to evacuate the newborn Irish citizens with “probably the most secure one being a humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to evacuate Kyiv through a safe channel out of the country.
She pointed to past conflicts where humanitarian groups such as refugee agencies, the UNHCR and the International Red Cross, were permitted to assist civilians in war zones.
“It is very hard for the parents. We continue to have dialogue and support the parents in what is an extraordinarily difficult situation for them,” said Ms Seery Kearney.
Support group Irish Families Through Surrogacy said it was in regular contact with the parents of the babies and other affected families but declined to comment further.
“We are just trying to ensure their safety and security,” said a spokeswoman for the group.
Ukraine is a popular location for Irish couples seeking to have babies via surrogate mothers with 14 Irish babies due to be born in the country between February and May of this year.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Varadkar urged that new consideration be given to Irish security policy, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He told RTÉ’s News at One programme that the invasion “does require us to think about our security policy”, which had for 70 years rested on the assumption that military neutrality would protect the State, and if attacked, Nato countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom would “come to our aid in any case”. However, the invasion should prompt eamination of Ireland’s defensive capabilities and “where we see ourselves in the European security architecture”. “I think we’ll need to think about deeper involvement in European defence, and we’ll also need to consider the triple lock” - the mechanism that requires a government decision, a Dáil vote and a UN resolution before Ireland becomes involved in an overseas action. “Russia has a veto [on the UN security council],” Mr Varadkar said. “Essentially we’re giving Russia a veto on our foreign policy,” he said, urging a debate on these issues without acting in a “knee-jerk fashion”.
“I think that part of securing peace and ensuring our security is being prepared for attack. Russia took the view, Putin took the view that the West was vulnerable,” he said, adding that Mr Putin: “saw that the West didn’t intervene in Syria when he did, saw that the west pulled out of Afghanistan, sees that America was divided, sees that Britan pulled out of the European Union and he saw the West’s weakness and Ukraine is now paying a price for that and that’s something we need to wake ourselves up to - that there are countries and dictators who have immense power in this world who don’t share our values and we need to be able to defend ourselves”
Senator Lisa Chambers, the Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on Foreign Affairs, told The Irish Times that on some issues - particularly cyber defence - “we cannot protedct ourselves adequately and need to work with other member states and pool resources and knowledge.”
“It’s important we protect our people and our State from any form of attack,” she said. “We know our Defence Forces do not have the required capabilities and we rely heavily on the U.K. for air and naval support. We also have to ask ourselves, as proud members of the European Union, do we stand with and support other member states and are we willing to do our fair share to protect the EU and it’s valued? I believe the Irish people would agree we must play our part.”