Coveney ‘surprised’ at ‘ill-judged’ photo of Defence Forces chief with Russian ambassador

Minister says Seán Clancy explained meeting was part of engagements with all ambassadors

Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy pictured with the ambassador of Russia to Ireland Yuri Filatov. Photograph: Russian Embassy in Ireland/Twitter

Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy pictured with the ambassador of Russia to Ireland Yuri Filatov. Photograph: Russian Embassy in Ireland/Twitter

 

Simon Coveney has told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that he was “surprised” by a photograph of the Defence Forces chief of staff posing with the Russian ambassador, and it was “ill-judged”.

Mr Coveney, who is Minister for Defence as well as Foreign Affairs, told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that the chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy explained to him that the meeting with Yuri Filatov was part of engagements with all ambassadors he was undertaking as he is new to his role.

The meeting took place on Friday at the Russian embassy in Orwell Road, Dublin. It was announced in a tweet from the embassy on Friday evening.

Sources at the Fine Gael meeting said Michael Creed, the former minister for agriculture, was also critical of the tweet, saying he was surprised to see it.

Over the weekend the Department of Defence said the meeting was a “routine courtesy call” and that it was “normal for foreign ambassadors to pay routine courtesy calls”.

“This is one of a series of meetings. Such meetings are a matter for the chief of staff, not the Minister. There is no ongoing military co-operation with Russia and there is no intention to do so.”

Ukraine crisis

The Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting also heard from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar who said his Department is examining the impact of European Union sanctions on Russia if they invade Ukraine, and of any potential countersanctions.

The Department, he said, is profiling how such international measures would look on the ground and impact businesses. He said the planned Russian naval exercises some 130 nautical miles off the southwest coast, an area within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, were very unwelcome and a matter of concern.

Mr Coveney told the meeting that he expects 1.7 million passport applications will be made this year, far surpassing the previous high of one million. By the end of this month, he said, 776 people – up from 460 last June – will be working on passport applications. This will be increased to 900 by the end of March.

Senator Sean Kyne told the meeting that a renewal notification system should be instituted for passports, similar to that for road tax, advising people that their passports were due to expire. A name change for passport express was also suggested, as was doing away with paper applications.

Roads

The meeting also heard criticism of progress on roads projects, and the cancellation of roads projects. Former minister of state David Stanton was among those who spoke, sources said, criticising Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan for not responding to him or acknowledging a letter he sent.

Mr Stanton told the meeting that he had raised the M25 from Midleton to Carrigtwohill, but never heard back. Sources said Mr Stanton told his party colleagues: “If he won’t respond to me why would I support him.” Members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party remarked that the strength of the remarks was unusual for Mr Stanton.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan and Kerry TD Brendan Griffin also raised issues relating to the cancellation or delaying of roads projects.

Mr Varadkar also told the meeting that construction had began on more than 30,000 homes in the last 12 months and 40,000 planning permission applications had been granted for the same period.