Varadkar warns fishermen not to put themselves at risk in Russia navy protest

Tánaiste says there is ‘real fear of a land war in Europe’ amid tensions over Ukraine

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said there is "a real fear that we could see a land war on the continent of Europe".

He made the remarks on Tuesday after Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney briefed Cabinet on the current tension in eastern Europe amid concerns that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government does not believe Russian plans for military exercises off the southwest coast of Ireland are connected to the situation in Ukraine.

And he urged fishermen planning to disrupt peacefully the Russian navy’s plans in this regard not to put themselves at risk.


He said Mr Coveney gave a comprehensive briefing to Cabinet on the “very serious” situation involving Russia and Ukraine.

There is concern at the prospect of a ground war in Europe of the kind not seen since the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s amid a military build-up by Russia on the Ukraine border.

Mr Varadkar said that this would have a humanitarian impact but could also have impacts on Ireland economically and in terms of energy supplies.

He said the State’s response amid the current situation is being co-ordinated with European and UN partners.

He said the Russian plans for naval exercises in the Republic’s exclusive economic zone are “not illegal” but “not welcome”. However, he added that “we don’t believe that they’re connected to the events in Russia and Ukraine”.

“We certainly would prefer that they were not happening. And that message has been conveyed to the [Russian] ambassador,” the Tánaiste said.

He said the Russians cannot be stopped from carrying out their planned military exercises off the Irish coast.

“We have made it very clear that these exercises are not welcome particularly in the current context, when tensions are rising in relation to Ukraine, and that’s been communicated to them very strongly.”

Protecting biodiversity

Irish fishing boats plan to disrupt peacefully the Russian operation. Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, said that the area in which the operation is to take place was very important for fishing and that they wanted to protect biodiversity and marine life.

Mr Varadkar said on Tuesday that he hasn’t had a chance to speak to the fishermen but said his message to them would be that “these are military vessels and whatever they choose to do in terms of any protests, just make sure that they don’t put themselves at any risk”.

Mr Varadkar was asked about the possible use of Irish airspace to transport troops or weapons to Ukraine and he said he was not aware of any plans for this.

He said there is legislation and rules in relation to weapons being transported through Irish airports which involve approval from the Department of Transport.

He said there are no plans to send Irish troops to Ukraine as part of any European response.

“That hasn’t been discussed. And as would be the case if Ireland took part in any sort of military mission, we’d have to apply the triple lock. So you’d probably need a UN mandate as well.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times