Expulsion of Russian diplomat act of solidarity with UK, says Taoiseach

Leo Varadkar insists Ireland has no quarrel with Russian people

Russia’s ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov: The Taoiseach said the decision to expel a  diplomat was based on intelligence and advice from Garda and the Defence Forces.  Photograph:  Tom Honan

Russia’s ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov: The Taoiseach said the decision to expel a diplomat was based on intelligence and advice from Garda and the Defence Forces. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Ireland’s decision to expel a Russian diplomat was an act of solidarity with the United Kingdom, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He told the Dáil on Tuesday Ireland as a country had no quarrel with the Russian people.

“Let us not forget that this is a dark and difficult time for the Russian people who are in mourning following the death of 60 people, including 40 children in a shopping centre fire which reminds us of the Stardust fire,’’ he added.

Mr Varadkar said the decision to expel the diplomat was based on intelligence and advice from Garda and the Defence Forces.

He said Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had briefed the Government on Tuesday morning on the intended course of action.

The Taoiseach was replying to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said the decision needed to be explained and simply citing solidarity with Britain was not sufficient.

“Such a significant and dramatic Irish foreign policy decision should be dictated by Irish security analysis,’’ she added.

Trusting Boris Johnson

Ms McDonald said the decision it seemed was on the basis of information from a foreign security intelligence service.

Essentially, she added, the House was being asked to trust the British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, which “might not be the wisest course of action’’.

She said the move showed a disregard for Irish military neutrality and was completely in line with the actions of Fine Gael and the Government to undermine that neutrality.

Mr Varadkar said the Tánaiste was available to brief party leaders on the issue.

The Taoiseach said Ireland was a neutral country.

“We do not join military alliances,’’ he added. “We will not be joining Nato and we will not be part of a European army.’’

He said when it came to terrorism, assassinations, the use of chemical weapons and cyber terrorism, Ireland was not neutral.

Later, Mr Coveney told the House it was right Ireland should stand in full solidarity with the UK, our closest neighbour.

On Monday, 16 EU member states announced they would expel Russian diplomats.

“This is a clear majority of member states,’’ he added. “It includes east and west, north and south, big and small, Nato and non-Nato.’’

Mr Coveney said it was a “complete red herring’’ to say the decision breached Irish neutrality and undermined foreign policy.

Ireland, he said, had never been neutral when it came to defending the rule of law and international security.

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brief said his party supported the Government’s decision.

‘Clear message’

“We believe this action is appropriate and proportionate and it sends a clear message that no country is above international laws,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin spokesman Sean Crowe said the difficulty surrounding the issue was that the House had yet to be given independently verified evidence to underpin the decision to expel the diplomat.

His party, therefore, did not support the expulsion and believed it was a further erosion of neutrality and independent foreign policy.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was simply not credible that Ireland would stand alone on the issue at EU level.

“We should be slow to contemplate, however, additional activity that will escalate the matter further unless our own circumstances warrant it,’’ he added.

Mr Howlin said he believed Ireland should not expel diplomats, save for activities that occurred on Irish soil or impacted directly on Irish citizens or on our own security.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he was concerned for Ireland and its people. Ireland had put the cart before the horse before establishing the facts, he added. “What happened to the premise of innocent until proven guilty ?”