Politics
Subscriber Only

In addressing Oireachtas, Zelenskiy joins long line of foreign leaders

Inside Politics: Ukrainian president will be 22nd person to address joint sitting of Houses

At 10am this morning Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy will become the 22nd person to address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas since the First Dáil was established.

The first to do so were a group of three, the members of the American Commission on Irish Independence, all citizens of the United States. They addressed the Dáil on May 9th, 1919.

There were three other addresses between then and 1923, two of them given by Tim Healy, then governor-general of the Irish Free State.

Then there was a gap of 40 years until US president John F Kennedy made his remarkable speech to the House. There are passages from the speech that have still clung on in the common memory.

"I am deeply honoured to be your guest in the free parliament of a free Ireland. If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course, if your own president had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me."

And of course, he was the first of a long line of distinguished international figures to quote James Joyce or WB Yeats to advantage:

“And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears, and an earlier poet wrote: ‘They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay…’ There are those who regard this history of past strife and exile as better forgotten, but to use the phrase of Yeats: ‘Let us not casually reduce that great past to a trouble of fools, for we need not feel the bitterness of the past to discover its meaning for the present and the future.’”

Since then a large number of foreign leaders have addressed the Dáil and Seanad sitting together: they include US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton; German chancellor Helmut Kohl; French president Francois Mitterand, British prime minister Tony Blair; and Australian prime ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, and John Howard. Three leading EU politicians have also addressed the Joint Houses: Jean-Claude Juncker; Michel Barnier, and Martin Schultz. Under Article 13.7 of the Constitution the President of Ireland can address both Houses. Three have done so: Eamon de Valera; Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

Mr Zelenskiy's address this morning will be the first to have been done by video link, from Kyiv, the capital of war-torn Ukraine. Sarah Burns has all the details in her report this morning.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl will make a short introduction at 9.50am with Mr Zelenskiy beginning his address at 10am.

An Ceann Comhairle will then respond, followed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, and then the leaders of all political parties and groupings, with the session concluding at 11am following a closing address by Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Mark Daly.

War crimes

It will not be hard to second-guess the content of Mr Zelenskiy’s speech. His video addresses to legislatures and assemblies have become an almost daily occurrence. Yesterday, he addressed the United Nations for the second time by video link.

As Washington Correspondent Martin Wall reports, Mr Zelenskiy called for "establishment of trials similar to those conducted in Nuremberg after the second World War to prosecute those involved in Russian war crimes in his country".

The call comes following what was found in the town of Bucha following the withdrawal of Russian troops. Bodies of civilians – some of them reportedly trussed, or having their hands bound, before they were shot – were discovered.

The discoveries have led to a fifth round of sanctions by the European Union, with sanctions on the import of Russian coal (worth €4 billion), four key Russian banks, on Russian ships docking at EU ports, with more asset freezes and travel bans on individuals.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney said yesterday that 19,000 Ukrainian refugees have already arrived in Ireland, with up to 13,000 more expected to arrive by Easter weekend. Among the properties that could be used to house Ukrainian refugees is the State’s biggest hotel, the 750-bedroom Citywest Hotel in Dublin.

Best Reads

Miriam Lord revels in a Bridgerton-like exchange between the Taoiseach and Mary Lou McDonald, including this great line: "Of course, he was keen to point out later that he wasn't referring to Mary Lou personally, but to her political party, which he thinks adopts the Mae West approach to chastity: as pure as the driven slush."

Pat Leahy assesses Martin Fraser's successor as Government secretary general, John Callinan, who has taken the lead on Brexit negotiations within the Department of the Taoiseach. Now the most senior civil servant in the State, he is seen as "a solid operator, generally decent and fair".

Cormac McQuinn reports that two Fianna Fáil TDs and a Senator will mount a strong defence of carbon tax at tonight's Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. They are Paul McAuliffe, Christopher O'Sullivan and Senator Malcolm Byrne.

Jennifer Bray reports that Micheál Martin delivered a strong attack on former UK Brexit negotiator David Frost who, he claimed, tried to undermine negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Jack Horgan-Jones has the latest on the Government's advanced negotiations to use the Citywest hotel to house Ukrainian refugees for up to two years.

Simon Coveney has said that changing Ireland's triple-lock defence protocol is not a "big priority" for him at the moment, notwithstanding Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Former diplomat Bobby McDonagh says there is no easy route to EU membership for Ukraine.

Playbook

Obviously the Dáil will be suspended to facilitate a sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas early in the morning. Mr Ó Fearghaíl will open proceedings at 9.50am and Mr Zelenskiy will begin his address at 10am. The event will be wrapped up by Mr Daly at 11am.

At Noon the Dáil resumes in the chamber with Leaders’ Questions.

In the afternoon there will be statements about last week’s summit of EU leaders.

The Carbon Budget will also be debated.

The votes on all the divisions of the week will take place at 9.40pm with the Dáil adjourning just before 11pm.

Seanad

In the Seanad, there will be statements on Covid-19 and debates on the Garda Síochána Bill, as well as the Planning and Development Bill. Malcolm Byrne’s Private Members’ Bill, which provides that only the Defence Forces can use the term “Óglaigh na hÉireann”, will come before the Upper House. Most of the armed republican groups, including the Provisional IRA, have styled themselves with that title.

Committees

In the morning, the Committee on Health will discuss progress on Sláintecare with officials from the Department of Health and from the HSE. Expect some tasty exchanges.

In the afternoon there will be a discussion at the arts, culture and tourism committee on working conditions in the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as skills shortages.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will be before the Committee on Finance to discuss the Finance (Covid-19) Bill 2022.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland will give the transport committee an update on all projects it is involved in.

In the evening, the Committee on Agriculture is looking at the issues of artificial canine insemination/canine fertility clinics, ear cropping and microchipping legislation with representatives from Dogs Trust and the ISPCA. It is also discussing the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 with Dogs Trust.