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War drums grow louder as Ukranian face-off continues

Inside Politics: US diplomat says there is ‘every indication’ that Russian attack is coming

Good morning.

As the Ukrainian face-off continues, the war drums grow louder. A senior US diplomat said she believes there is "every indication" that the Russian attack on Ukraine is coming. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that his country would take "appropriate response measures" if it was not satisfied with the outcome of security talks with the West. Russia continues to add to its force of some 100,000 troops close to Ukraine and launched naval drills in the Black Sea, while Nato reinforce eastern Europe and sends arms to Ukraine.

There are several Irish angles making the news this morning. To the chagrin of West Cork fishermen, Russian navy ships are heading towards the intended site of their exercises about 200km off the south coast. The Russian ambassador Yuri Filatev says there is "nothing to see here" but we'll see how that goes down with the fishermen, whom he's due to meet today.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs – and for Defence – Simon Coveney took the very unusual step of upbraiding the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces General Sean Clancy for meeting the Russian ambassador last Friday. The Government has expressed its opposition to the Russian naval exercises, but General Clancy insisted that the visit to the embassy was no more than a courtesy call. But speaking to Fine Gael TDs and senators last night, Coveney said it was "ill-judged".

Perhaps inevitably, MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly have weighed into the situation, criticising the US and Nato. Daly insisted that the Russian build-up of 100,000 troops and armour on the Ukraine border was “clearly defensive”. MEP colleagues have accused the pair in the past of being pro-Russian and pro-Chinese. Wallace said that he fights “the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese rhetoric”.

"I agree we shouldn't let the Russians have military exercises off Ireland, and yet at the same time we're letting the Yanks use Shannon [airport] to f***ing destroy countries with large Muslim populations," he said.

Quite the confrontation in the Dáil between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday. Mary Lou was telling the Taoiseach (again) that HE. JUST. DOESN'T. GET. IT. Micheál took exception to this attempt paint him as part of an out-of-touch elite, reminding her that he came from humble origins in working class Cork, with the unsaid comparison with Mary Lou's comfortable South Dublin background hanging in the air. There were ructions. Miriam Lord observed.

Up North, the curse of old tweets has struck again. Days after UUP lead Doug Beattie's abject apologies for old tweets that contained offensive comments about, well, about nearly everyone, a trio of Sinn Féin MLAs have had to apologise for old tweets which said disobliging things about Protestants and unionists and Queen Elizabeth. Why everyone in public life hasn't deleted all their old tweets remains a mystery. Anyway, Freya McClements has the story here.

No sign of the much anticipated Sue Gray report on the Downing Street parties yesterday, though reports last night suggest it's due today. Or next week. We'll see. But there was further trouble for Boris Johnson when documents released by a parliamentary committee showed that the prime minister's office had authorised the evacuation of animals – organised by an animal charity – from Kabul while thousands of people were desperately seeking to escape from the advancing Taliban. Johnson had previously denied any involvement in authorising the evacuation of 150 cats and dogs as well as charity staff on a charter plane, but emails say that Downing Street had intervened to give the go-ahead. Number 10 denied the story last night, insisting that the emails only showed what one official thought, rather than what happened. You just know the stories will keep coming. Denis Staunton reports.

Westminster, he says is "consumed with plotting and speculation".

Finally, another contentious piece of legislation that is coming on the agenda is the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, which will cover a range of areas – including IVF and surrogacy – that are currently largely unregulated. This morning we report on an options paper that has been prepared by officials for a new committee that will consider the question of international surrogacy – and how it can be dealt with or recognised in domestic law.

The intention is that “commercial” surrogacy – where the surrogate mother has the baby in return for a fee – will be banned here, while “altruistic” surrogacy will be permitted. This would reflect the position in many countries, which also ban commercial surrogacy. But not all do – Russia, Ukraine and some US states permit such arrangements and some Irish people use services there. So TDs and senators must grapple with how to recognise these arrangements – and the relationships they give rise to – in the new Bill. The options paper suggests an attitude among officials that is quite hostile to commercial surrogacy, at home or abroad.

Best reads

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This is exactly what the Green Party said it would do in Government, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs will not like it .

Finn McRedmond on the failures of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.Newton Emerson on the convolutions of the DUP.

Playbook

A timely episode of Foreign Affairs and Defence questions in the Dáil this morning, followed by leaders' questions for the number twos (usually Leo Varadkar and Pearse Doherty) at noon. Questions and answers on the National Broadband Plan in the afternoon, followed by several hours of Government legislation. Highlight in the Seanad is statements on violence against women, while reps from the company awarded the massive broadband contract are in at the communications committee. Elsewhere officials from the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority will be questioned about their budgets at the Public Accounts Committee this morning. Full details of all Oireachtas business here.