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Will Russian war games fizzle out or turn red hot?

Inside Politics: Tentative hopes Russia may be withdrawing troops from frontline

Good morning,

Our lead today focuses on the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis. Amid tentative hopes that Russia may be withdrawing troops from the frontline, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the moves would be welcome – if and when they're confirmed. Meanwhile, Ireland and the rest of the world is kept on tenterhooks, trying to scrutinise the inscrutable and make sense of war games that simultaneously risk fizzling out or going red hot. Our lead story this morning tracks these developments and a sense of "cautious optimism".

Simon Carswell reports on the Government's moves to fast-track emergency travel documents for Irish babies being born by surrogacy in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian ambassador Yuri Filatov has been on his own set of manoeuvres closer to home, giving an interview to Prime Time on Tuesday evening.


Elsewhere, Pat Leahy reports on the vexed issue of the future of the TV licence fee. The Government is expected to reject a recommendation from the Future of Media Commission that the TV licence fee be scrapped and replaced with direct exchequer funding. Instead, as a way to tackle evasion and bolster the national broadcaster's finances, it will be handed over to the Revenue Commissioners. There could be a wrinkle, however, for RTÉ, with discussions also focusing on splitting the additional funding with other broadcasters producing public service. It has now been months since the report on the Future of Media went to Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, but as Pat reports, there could be meaningful progress and a Government decision by the end of the month.

Since the Business Post reported the contents of secret recordings of Department of Health officials last weekend, there has been a steady drip feed of allegations made by a whistleblower making their way into the public domain. Today is the first chance we'll get to see them tested in the public arena, when Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Health, and HSE chief executive Paul Reid, appear before the Oireachtas health committee. It won't be a full-bore feeding frenzy, though.

The committee has spent some time carving out a commitment from the two men to come before it every two months to monitor the implementation of Sláintecare. The resignation of large swathes of the implementation board for the healthcare reform plan was the last significant healthcare controversy, and committee chairman Seán Crowe has indicated that he will try to keep the focus on the topic at hand.

What's more, as Cormac McQuinn reports this morning, some committee members are already throwing the issue in the direction of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). That said, the allegations from the whistleblower are quite wide-ranging, and Sláintecare encompasses the reform of the whole health service, so there are clear paths for the whistleblower issue to be explored. Expect that to happen, as we find out whether this controversy will get another boost from the committees. Our backgrounder on the various moving parts to the controversy is here.

Our front page line-up is completed by Dublin Editor Olivia Kelly, who has the details of a stand-off between Dublin City Council and the planning regulator over moves to restrict the construction of rental-only blocks in the capital.

Best reads

David Farrell, who along with Jane Suiter has carefully nursed the concept of the Citizens' Assembly to fruition, has an interesting piece on how and why we may be overdoing it now.

Miriam Lord's take on the cost-of-living crossfire in the Dáil on Tuesday is here.

Continuing with the Ukraine coverage, Daniel McLaughlin's backgrounder on what Russia stands to gain (or lose) in the high-stakes standoff is here.

Lara Marlowe's analysis of the fortunes of the conservative candidate in the French presidential campaign is here.


Action in the Dáil kicks off with questions on promised legislation, followed by Taoiseach's Questions, at 1.05pm. There are statements on the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces at 2.50pm, before the second stage of the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill. Weekly divisions are at 8.30pm. Full schedule can be found here.

The best of the committee action, as mentioned above, will be early doors at the health committee. That's at 10.30am. Before that, Enterprise Ireland are at the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment at 9.30am. At the same time, Heather Humphreys is in front of the social protection committee. Eamon Ryan is in front of the transport committee, talking about the investigation of marine casualties, at 2pm. Full schedule can be found here.

Over in the Seanad, there will be a motion on the agriculture committee's report on the forestry sector at 1pm, before Private Members' Business takes in the committee stage of an amendment to the planning Bill which would remove planning restrictions governing the installation of solar panels – brought forward by Green Senators Pauline O'Reilly, Vincent P Martin and Róisín Garvey. The full schedule is here.