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Cruelty of Putin’s invasion condemned by Taoiseach ahead of EU meeting

Inside Politics: European leaders meet as horrors of Ukrainian war continue unabated

“The indiscriminate cruelty of Putin’s invasion is crystal clear. This war on civilians must end” – the words of Taoiseach Micheál Martin responding to reports of a strike on a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol.

Mr Martin will today travel to an informal European Union summit in Versailles where the Russian invasion of Ukraine will unsurprisingly dominate the agenda.

The discussions will focus on the EU’s response to the refugee crisis, how to rapidly eliminate Europe’s dependence on Russian gas imports, as well as the security threats posed by the invasion.

As European leaders assemble the horrors of the war continue unabated.

Daniel McLaughlin reports in our lead on how Ukraine has pleaded with the West to help protect its skies after blaming Russia for a bomb strike that gutted the maternity hospital.

Footage from Mariupol showed a maternity home and children’s hospital in ruins and pregnant women being carried out stretchers. Local officials said at least 17 people were injured.

"Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!" tweeted Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelenskiy.

“How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Russian forces do not fire on civilian targets."

In terms of the international response the United Nations spokesman called for "an immediate halt to attacks on healthcare, hospitals, healthcare workers, ambulances – none of these should ever, ever be a target".

Nato meanwhile, has rebuffed Ukraine's requests for a no-fly zone over the country, amid concerns that it could cause a direct clash between the western alliance and Russia.

More broadly in the war fighting raged outside major cities including the capital Kyiv, fears grew for the safety of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant after its electricity supply failed, and Ukrainians continued to join a westward flow of more than 2.2 million displaced people.

EU leaders will have a lot to talk about when they gather outside Paris today.

Those living under Russian bombardment in Ukraine will be more interested in what more action they will take to try and stop the war.

War adds to cost-of-living struggle

Back home the war is adding to the woes of households who had already been struggling with the cost of living. A cut in excise on petrol and diesel kicked in at midnight but ministers fear that the tax reductions will be wiped out by soaring price rises.

Opposition TDs complained that the reductions – by 20 cent a litre for petrol and 15 cent for diesel – were not enough, while the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said that the Government "cannot protect citizens and businesses from the entire cost impact. We are experiencing the consequences of a war".

The cuts in excise, which will expire in August, will cost the exchequer €320 million.

Petrol and diesel prices in Ireland are at their highest level on record with the current average just under €2 per litre. Were the average prices seen this week to continue over 12 months it would mean fuel costs for the average motorist would be €1,000 higher than in 2020.

The issue of course got an airing at both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings.

There were calls from Fine Gael backbenchers to stall planned increases to the carbon tax, due to start in May – with excise cuts dismissed as “too little, too late”.

Pat Leahy, Harry McGee, Conor Pope and Jack Horgan-Jones have the story here.

Best reads

Miriam Lord's account of the cost-of-living debate in the Dáil - including Independent TD Verona Murphy's suggestion to the Taoiseach that "It's time to be brave and grow a pear" is here.

Ronan McGreevy reports on how residents of Orwell Road in Dublin, where the Russian embassy is located, are set to be consulted on a proposal to change the name to Independent Ukraine Road.

Naomi O'Leary follows up her scoop on instructions within the United Nations for staff to avoid the use of the terms "war" and "invasion" in relation to the war and invasion in Ukraine with a report on fresh international documents showing the soft language instructions were passed down from the top soon after Russia began its attack.

She also has a piece outlining how the UN had claimed the contents of her original story were fake leading to vigilante "fake news" watchdogs roamed the internet demanding people delete her story.

On the opinion pages Newton Emerson says Northern Ireland's future will be decided by rising tide of Alliance voters.

Playbook

The Dáil kicks off at 9am with Parliamentary Questions taken by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney.

Minister for Education Norma Foley is next up at 10:30am.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan takes Leaders' Questions at noon followed by Questions on Promised Legislation.

Government business in the afternoon is on the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Sinn Féin have a Private Members Bill on regulating the seeking of voluntary contributions from parents by schools. It will be debated at 6.03pm.

In committeeland Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will be quizzed on the Patient Safety Bill 2019 from 9.30am.

HSE boss Paul Reid will be at the Public Accounts Committee at the same time to answer questions on mental health services.

Minister Simon Coveney will provide an update on the war in Ukraine to the Committee on Foreign Affairs at 1.30pm.

The full Dáil, Seanad and Committee schedule can be found here, here and here.