Criticism of Irish sanctions regime on Russia by official caused ‘considerable concern’

Department of Finance official told panel talk sanctions on Russian money were ‘unenforceable’

Comments by a high-ranking civil servant that sanctions targeting the flow of Russian money through Ireland were “unenforceable” in practice, caused “considerable concern” within the Department of Finance, internal correspondence shows.

In late October Brenda McVeigh, head of the department’s anti-money laundering unit, told a panel talk that legislation behind sanctions placed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine did not work. In comments reported by The Irish Times, Ms McVeigh said sanctions did not amount to “a hill of beans”.

Authorities could be aware of cases where Russian money was moving through funds based in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin, but “can’t actually do anything about it”, the official told the talk.

Ms McVeigh, who previously had responsibility for sanctions in the department, said: “Our legislation doesn’t work but we are all supposed to keep very quiet about that.”


Internal records released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show the commentary caused alarm within the department. In an October 28th email, John Hogan, department secretary general, said media coverage of the comments had “caused considerable concern” for Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, as well as others “within and beyond the department”.

Mr Hogan told Ms McVeigh he would not have expected “one of the most senior and experienced” principal officers in the department to be quoted in the media “on a matter as sensitive and serious as this”.

In an email to the secretary general, Ms McVeigh said she felt she had been “misquoted” and that issues around the enforcement of sanctions was “old news”. The reporting that detailed her comments was based on written notes and a full audio recording of the panel talk, which journalists had been invited to attend by the organisers.

Ms McVeigh said she had also believed the talk was being held under “Chatham house rules”, where comments cannot be publicly attributed to a speaker.

In a note prepared for the department, the civil servant said she “very much” regretted how she phrased comments around “enforcement issues” with sanctions. “It was late, I was tired, which is no excuse, I’m annoyed at myself,” she wrote. “I said there is an issue with enforcement, which a sanctions group in Ireland had been looking at,” she said.

The civil servant said her comments about sanctions amounting to a “hill of beans” had been “in relation to the economic impact of sanctions”, where she was responding to another panellist saying they did not impact oligarchs.

The panel talk was held to launch the Wild Atlantic Law festival, which is to take place in Co Clare in May 2024.

As department officials prepared to respond to queries about Ms McVeigh’s comments a decision was taken to first wait and see what was reported in the media, rather than “commenting blind”, internal emails show.

In a statement issued several days later the department said many EU countries had experienced “implementation challenges”, given the substantial increase in the scope and complexity of sanctions targeting Russia.

It said €1.8 billion in assets linked to sanctioned Russian individuals and entities has been frozen in Ireland since February 2022. It is understood much of these assets were money held in funds and special purpose vehicles in Dublin’s international services hub.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times