Expelling Russian ambassador could impact Irish citizens abroad – Taoiseach

Martin will not ‘cut off channels’ that could aid contact with Irish people in difficulty

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said expelling the Russian ambassador could be "done in a day" and would be "easy" but that the repercussions of such a move may be "much longer felt" by Irish citizens in Ukraine and Russia.

Despite calls from Opposition leaders in the Dáil, Mr Martin said he was not going to "cut off channels" that could potentially help the Government assist Irish citizens abroad. He said he did not think it was "the right way to go" for Ireland to take a lead and expel the Russian ambassador Yury Filatov.

“We want to protect Irish citizens, we want to maintain diplomatic channels to protect Irish citizens both in Ukraine, and in Russia and elsewhere,” Mr Martin said during Leader’s Questions on Wednesday.

“It’s important that we bear that in mind before taking precipitous action on the front of expulsions, which can be done in a day. It’s very easy, but the repercussions can be much longer felt by Irish citizens, that’s the challenge.”

Mr Martin said diplomats had been expelled in the past and that when this happens “there’s a reciprocal response”.

“You end up with nobody on the ground; particularly in Moscow, where we do have Irish citizens, and I don’t know how this war is going to unfold or what implications it will have for Irish citizens,” he said.

“I do know that right now in Ukraine we’re working extremely hard to help those citizens get out and in particular, very vulnerable young babies and so on in hospital in the Ukraine.

“I’m not going to cut off channels that potentially can help us to get Irish citizens who are in difficulty out of Ukraine or indeed anywhere else for that matter.”

Mr Martin said less than a week into the invasion of Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin had not "achieved the rapid victory over the Ukrainian people that he had anticipated".

He said Mr Putin was moving into a new phase, with extreme forms of barbarity being witnessed with attacks on cities and civilian targets.

Mr Martin said 700,000 people are estimated to have left Ukraine already and this number could rise “very significantly”.

“I think we should expect those numbers to increase and that will create huge challenges across the European continent, with the repercussions of this war that’s being raged by Putin . . . going to be felt across the length and breadth of our continent and the human trauma will be enormous,” he added.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said the Russian ambassador was "a liar" and that he had lied to the Irish people "on multiple occasions".

“We are in unprecedented territory with a regime that is acting in an absolute horrendous way. There is no way on this earth, and it’s not just domestically, that the Russian ambassador should stay in Ireland,” he said.

“What’s the point in having diplomatic channels with somebody who lies, you can’t trust him. If he said nothing, it would have been better . . . I think collectively, you’re right at EU level with our partners we have to do everything, we also have to lead.

“So I’m asking you formally to withdraw our ambassador from Russia because I believe we have to do that. I also believe we have to expel the Russian ambassador.”

Mr Kelly said the actions of Ireland's MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly must be condemned and that they "do not speak for the Irish people" and had "disgraced their mandate".

“There are a number of others who haven’t covered themselves in glory either,” the Tipperary TD added.

The MEPs rejected a European Parliament resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine and demanding Mr Putin immediately pull his troops out on Tuesday.

The motion, which also argued in favour of a speeding-up of Ukraine’s candidacy for EU membership, received overwhelming support, with 637 MEPs voting in favour and just 13 members against, while a further 26 abstained.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was time for the Government to take the lead amongst EU States and expel the Russian ambassador from Ireland.

"It is essential as shells rain down on Kyiv as people flee for their lives that we demonstrate in every way to the Russian Federation that Ireland means business, and that we will not offer any shelter, any excuse, any cover in any form to them," she said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times