The big decisions that determine Ireland’s political and societal immediate future will be made in Brussels today as a crucial two-day summit of EU leaders discusses what to do next in response to the war in Ukraine.
It happens amid a continuing conflict that has also triggered a Europe-wide humanitarian and refugee crisis. None of the metrics look good at the moment as the leaders gather.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has managed to complete his period of isolation in Washington and will be in Brussels for the crucial meeting.
US president Joe Biden will also be there. As our Washington Correspondent Martin Wall reports, American intelligence is of the view that Russian president Vladimir Putin may sanction the use of chemical and biological weapons. There are moves afoot to supply Ukraine with weapons to counter such attacks.
It is not looking good. There has been widespread destruction. Lara Marlowe reports that up to 10 per cent of Russia's forces have been lost, with the port city of Mariupol largely destroyed as the Russians continue to besiege it.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the French National Assembly by video link yesterday and recalled the manner in which the French city of Verdun was destroyed during the first World War. He is due to address the summit today.
Incidentally, it was also reported by The Irish Times yesterday he will address the Oireachtas on April 6th.
Martin must be glad to be back in harness after a period of self-isolation in Washington after he contracted Covid. The summit’s agenda is almost single focus – responding to Russian military aggression against Ukraine, and all the issues that stem from that: security, defence, energy, and the economy. Expect tough new sanctions to emerge with the thorny debate over a boycott of Russian oil and gas playing a central role.
Every EU country is suffering the impact economically, as the global nature of this terrible war becomes apparent. In her European letter Naomi O'Leary reports that impact on energy prices has placed considerable pressure on the government of Pedro Sanchez in Spain.
She writes: “Truck drivers say it costs so much to refuel that they lose money making deliveries, and have gone on strike, dismissing a government subsidy offer as inadequate. Supply chains are at risk. Supermarket shelves have emptied, as the effect of the strike combines with bulk-buying behaviour due to rising food prices and concerns about the war in Ukraine.
“In addition, roughly one-third of households in Spain are on electricity contracts that link their bills directly to spot market rates. Those rose 400 per cent between April and October 2021 - before Russia’s invasion sent them even higher.”
New Labour leader
At noon, just as Leaders’ Questions begin in the Dáil, Ivana Bacik will be announced as the new leader of the Labour Party at a community centre in Ringsend.
She will be the party’s fifth leader in the course of a decade, reflecting the seemingly irreversible decline the party has suffered since going into coalition with Fine Gael in 2011, at the height of the financial crisis.
It is interesting that she has chosen the most working-class area of her own Dublin Bay South constituency as the launch pad. One of the big questions surrounding her leadership will be her ability to spread her appeal beyond the part of the labour vote that is middle-class and liberal to its other traditional core of blue-collar voters.
The last major political event held in that Ringsend centre was a Sinn Féin press conference held three days before the 2020 election. Mary Lou McDonald was cementing her party’s new-found status as the future of Irish politics. Bacik’s challenge will be multi-pronged. As well as trying to assert itself over its mirror image, the Social Democrats (her leadership will make the parties seem even more similar), she will have to make some inroads among new Sinn Féin supporters if the party is going to arrest the slide of the past decade.
Jennifer Bray writes that Government is considering a new 30 per cent tax rate as a possible means of easing the impact of inflation.
Jack Power reports that reviews are to be carried out into future cases where women are killed by their partners, or in family murder-suicides, to examine if State agencies missed previous red flags, as part of a Government plan to tackle gender-based violence.
Miriam Lord will find the going tough if Michael McGrath becomes leader of Fianna Fáil. He is no Paul Keating or Bob Hawke when it comes to political exchanges across the floor. Never rises to the bait.
The poorest and most vulnerable communities are sidelined when it comes to the environment even though they often bear the brunt of the impacts, according to a new report.
Arthur Beesley reports that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe have held talks with the Russian-owned Aughinish Alumina amid fears that the Limerick plant could have its operations jeopardised by possible sanctions.
Dr Dermot Fitzpatrick, former Fianna Fáil TD, has died. He was a Deputy for Dublin Central with his base around the Navan Road. He did not have a huge profile but was a popular and decent politician who was well-liked across the spectrum. His daughter is Senator Mary Fitzpatrick.
In the Dáil, debate continues on the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, which will regulate surrogacy in Ireland; and on the Bretton Woods Bill (which governs our funding and borrowing relationship with the IMF). A Private Members' Bill being brought by Sinn Fein TD Chris Andrews is designed to protect public housing.
In Seanad Éireann, the Consumer Protection Bill, which seeks to regulate retail credit and credit servicing firms, is being debated.
Thursday is always the big day for the Public Accounts Committee but its profile has been low under the chairmanship of Brian Stanley. It’s looking at the finances of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland today.
The education committee is examining the Technological University Act 2018 with Minister Simon Harris and Minister of State Niall Collins. Both Ministers are also at a subcommittee that is examining the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022.
Agriculture has invited a number of speakers to address its committee on fresh ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector.