Irish members of the European Parliament who voted against or abstained from a resolution condemning Russian aggression towards Ukraine in December have reflected on their stance, explaining that at the time they hoped the situation could be de-escalated.
The landmark vote in Strasbourg on December 16th won a sweeping overall majority among MEPs, with 548 voting in favour while just 69 rejected it and 54 abstained. But just six of Ireland’s 13 MEPs voted in favour.
The resolution condemned the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, warned troop numbers could reach 175,000 by early 2022, and called for Moscow to withdraw them, while urging the preparation of sanctions including the exclusion of Russia from the Swift international payment system.
The parliament “supports Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders”, the resolution read, while condemning “Russia’s direct and indirect involvement in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine”.
Six Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives backed the resolution. All MEPs of the Left group voted against the resolution, including Ireland’s independents Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Luke “Ming” Flanagan, and Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus.
Ireland’s two Green MEPs, Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan, abstained on the vote. They were the only Green MEPs to do so, while 62 of their fellow party members from other EU states voted in favour.
Fine Gael’s Colm Markey did not appear on the voting list.
Asked about the reasons behind his vote, Flanagan said he feared the vote could make the situation worse.
“I didn’t feel at the time that voting in favour of the resolution would help the situation. Possibly make it worse. I didn’t feel it was sincere that the Parliament was condemning Russia while at the same time ignoring what was happening in places like Yemen and Palestine,” he told The Irish Times.
“Now I think there’s nothing to lose. If the vote was today I’d support it.”
He added that action now was important, and called for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador to Ireland, the freezing of Russian money in the IFSC, and the exclusion of Russian banks from the Swift international payments system.
Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus also said he had feared the vote could escalate tensions.
“In situations where the real possibility of the outbreak of an armed conflict exists, Sinn Féin believes extreme care must be taken to de-escalate and promote dialogue. Being measured can sometimes save lives. In December, world leaders were very much in the process of trying to negotiate with Russia a de-escalation,” he said.
“It is in this context Sinn Féin voted against an effective upping of the ante, with regard to wide-ranging sanctions and military support, which could have collapsed the talks overnight.”
Now, the party supports sanctions, he added.
“Almost three months later, it is clear this process failed and Russia has chosen the path of aggression. Sinn Féin therefore now believes the last option available, of wide ranging sanctions, is appropriate.”
The Green MEPs explained that their decision to abstain came from discomfort towards language in the resolution relating to military support for Ukraine.
The resolution included a line that the European Parliament “stresses that friendly countries should step up their military support to Ukraine and their provision of defensive weapons” in line with the UN Charter allowing self-defence.
It also welcomed a decision by EU national leaders to provide Ukraine €31 million to “strengthen resilience and defence capabilities” under the European Peace Facility, and urged “the adoption of severe economic and financial sanctions in close coordination with the United States, Nato and other partners”.
“I am a peace activist. For that reason, I abstained on the resolution on Ukraine two months ago, as it called for increased EU cooperation with Nato and Pesco and encouraged EU military exports,” O’Sullivan told The Irish Times.
“I stand fully behind Ukraine, and as a neutral country, Ireland’s response now should, I believe, be strong humanitarian, rather than military, action.”
Cuffe said that he stood by the decision to abstain and would do the same again.
“In December we had still been hoping for a diplomatic solution that would lessen tensions with Russia. At that time, we wanted to prioritise diplomacy over military support and weapons, and we abstained due to language calling for countries to ‘step up their military support to Ukraine’,” Cuffe said.
“I believe Ireland as a neutral country, and the EU, should focus on diplomacy, severe sanctions, and de-escalation, rather than military solutions.”
Both Green MEPs noted they had voted last week in favour of a €1.2 billion euro financial aide package to Ukraine.
Daly and Wallace did not respond to a request for comment.