Subscriber OnlyInside Politics Digest

Zelenskiy address: No pomp or frills, just a direct and uncompromising message

Inside Politics: Ukrainian leader’s speech to Oireachtas was unadorned and powerful


There was no pomp, no ceremony, no frills. Just a guy on a television screen wearing green fatigues delivering a message that was stark and direct and uncompromising.

Ten million – a quarter of the country's population – displaced; thousands killed; almost 200 children known to have died; the cities and towns of Mariupol, Kharkov and Bucha the scenes of possible war crimes by Russian troops.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s message was as unadorned as it was powerful.

We take the relatively rare decision this morning of leading our coverage with Miriam Lord's column, which itself delivered a "modh díreach" message throughout.

"When his turn came, Zelenskiy did not waste time on pleasantries. 'Dear people of Ireland, this night our territory was again hit by Russian missiles.'

“The atmosphere in the chamber instantly changed. Zelenskiy’s audience listened intently, his chilling words relayed into the strained silence through an interpreter as he listed the latest litany of carnage.

“He was not delivering a speech for the ages. He was on a mission to seek help for his country,” she writes.

The set piece of an address to a joint sitting of the Oireachtas is also a relatively rare occurrence. It was the first given by the leader of a country under attack by another country, with parts of its territory under occupation. It is one of many Zelenskiy has delivered over the past month and has become almost as potent a weapon in this war as Vladimir Putin's artillery and missiles.

Sarah Burns reported on the occasion for us. She quotes Zelenskiy: "Today, when the whole world knows about the crimes against our people, [we] will still have to convince even some of the European countries to abandon the Russian market, we still have to convince foreign politicians that we need to cut any ties of Russian banks with the global financial system.

"We still have to convince Europe that Russian oil cannot feed Russian military machinery with new sources of funding."

He repeated a trope common with Irish politicians that the State may be militarily neutral but it is not politically neutral.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin indeed tapped into that very theme in his own speech, delivered with a voice that quivered with emotion at times.

"Those responsible will be held to account. We are with Ukraine and I am certain that in the end, Ukraine will prevail.

“We are a military-neutral country. However, we are not politically or morally neutral in the face of war crimes, quite the opposite.”

As we have seen in the past few weeks, that long-held principle of neutrality is under increasing scrutiny in light of what has transpired in Ukraine. As Jennifer Bray reports, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has, for the second day running, referenced the need for a rethink on Ireland's security and defence policies. The same report also refers to a speech given by President Michael D Higgins in Vienna where he said there should be an "informed debate about neutrality".

The sound of one hand clapping

There was much scanning of the Dáil chamber after Zelenskiy's speech to identify the TDs who did not clap. As Jack Horgan-Jones reports, the four People Before Profit/Solidarity TDs stood at the end of the speech but did not applaud. They were Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Gino Kenny and Bríd Smith.

Paul Murphy later said: “We stood for the people of Ukraine and stand with them in the struggle against the Russian imperialist invasion.”

He then added: “We can’t applaud calls for more sanctions which are hurting ordinary Russians and only bolstering the Putin regime at home.”

He also criticised Mr Zelenskiy banning opposition parties with 20 per cent of the vote.

And then there were the TDs who did stand and clap for a while, but consciously stopped while others continued to applaud. They were the three Independent TDs, Catherine Connolly, Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle.

Pringle later told us: "I wanted to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine but I was concerned abut constant talking up of Nato as well as attacks on Irish neutrality. Personally that is why I stopped."

In the European Parliament, Independent MEP Clare Daly also scathingly criticised EU sanctions.

“The EU instead of promoting peace and acting in the interests of the people of Europe to Ukrainians, the EU citizens and, yes, the Russian citizens too has become a tool of Nato and the military industrial complex.

“What is needed is an end to the conflict, an end to militarism, a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement.”

The actions of the seven TDs in the Dáil yesterday were conscious gestures that their support for Zelenskiy is conditional or partial at most.

To an overwhelming number of observers, that will be taken as ungenerous and lacking in solidarity and empathy for the Ukrainian people and its democratically elected leader whose country is facing a sustained and massive onslaught that has already cost thousands of lives and which is struggling to maintain its very existence.

Nato has featured prominently in all of their criticisms as well as the European Union. The partial act of protest in the Dáil is just anachronistic. The world has moved on. Nato has been responsible for military actions and interventions in the past that cost many lives, but has clean hands in this war. It is Russia. Full stop. Nobody else. Not the EU. Not Nato. Not any alleged military industrial complex. Throwing Nato and the EU into the mix of blame for what is happening now is a distortion.

If they do criticise sanctions, they have to be consistent in explaining the principle and application of that. All of those who spoke yesterday favour sanctions against Israel.

They also have to set out what their alternatives are. Ukraine has been invaded in real time. If you disagree with sanctions, what other tools do you have – besides getting involved militarily in the war – to try and deter Vladimir Putin? The answer to that is none, or almost none.

David McKechnie

It was a numbing and unspeakably sad day for us yesterday when we learned that our dear colleague David McKechnie had died after a very short illness at the age of 45.

Dave was the deputy foreign editor of The Irish Times. Besides being a calm, intelligent and cool-headed journalist, he was also one of the warmest and gentlest people you could meet, instantly likeable as a human being.

We are devastated at his loss. As foreign editor Chris Dooley reflects in this report on his death: "Dave really was the best of us and it is impossible to imagine he will not be with us anymore."

Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Best reads

Simon Carswell has a super report from Moldova which is struggling to accommodate the huge volume of refugees streaming across its border. He accompanied a number of Irish TDs and Senators who travelled there to witness the situation first-hand. There is also an excellent video.

In another excellent piece, Naomi O'Leary looks at how the details of reports by embedded pro-Russian journalists has unwittingly corroborated evidence of atrocities in Ukraine.

Cormac McQuinn and Jack Horgan-Jones report that the impending rise in carbon tax featured heavily at both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parliamentary party meetings.

Stephen Donnelly only became aware on Tuesday this week that Dr Tony Holohan will remain a fully paid employee (with a salary of €187,000) of the Department of Health, despite becoming professor of public health strategy at Trinity College Dublin.

Playbook

After the drama of yesterday, Leinster House returns to comparatively more mundane matters today.

Leo Varadkar is taking questions on enterprise first in the morning followed by Eamon Ryan who is taking questions on the environment and climate change.

Leaders’ Questions is at noon.

The Electoral Reform Bill (which will establish an electoral commission) is being debated in the afternoon as is the Sick Leave Bill 2022, which proposes to give a statutory right to employees to have three paid sick-leave days.

In the Seanad, the main legislation is the concluding debate on the Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services. This Bill is sponsored by Sinn Féin, Labour and some Independent Senators and proposes safe access to clinics where abortion services are available.

The Joint Committee on Gender Equality is examining gender-based violence.

A Joint Committee on International Surrogacy is looking at the position of surrogacy in Ireland and the law surrounding it.

The Public Accounts Committee is looking at the accounts of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Policing Authority.

Later in the afternoon the Housing Committee is examining the Draft River Basin Management Plan (2022-2027) with representatives from An Taisce, the Water Forum and the Sustainable Water Network.

READ MORE