‘Puppets of Putin’: Dáil suspended amid heated row over junior minister’s comments

Seán Fleming subsequently withdrew remark in case anyone ‘felt the comments were directed at them’

The Dáil was suspended after a heated row on neutrality and the triple lock when Minister of State Seán Fleming apparently accused People Before Profit (PBP) TDs of being “puppets of Putin”.

Mr Fleming was speaking during a debate calling on the Government to withdraw plans for legislation to end the triple lock which requires UN approval as well as that of the Government and the Dáil before the Defence Forces are sent on peacekeeping missions.

Mr Fleming had asked PBP “what planet are you living on? The world has changed since the last general election,” as he cited the war in Ukraine.

When he made reference to “puppets of Putin”, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy intervened and demanded that he withdraw the comment.

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Mr Fleming insisted when he was asked by acting chair Michael Ring if he would withdraw the remark that he was “referring to no Deputy” and “I didn’t mention any names”. But Mr Murphy and party colleague Bríd Smith insisted he had and demanded he withdraw the remark. Mr Murphy said it was in Oireachtas regulations that it was forbidden to accuse a TD of being under the influence of outside interests.

In the uproar acting chair Michael Ring suspended the House. When it resumed Mr Fleming was asked if he was withdrawing his comment and said that while he was not referring to any TDs “if the cap fits they can wear it”.

After another request from the chair he said he withdrew the remark for any TD who “feels the comments were directed at them”.

Earlier, opening the debate Ms Smith said Tánaiste Micheál Martin insists on inserting the word “military” before the word “neutrality” because “you want to ignore how the Irish people think of neutrality and to gut the word of its real meaning”.

The Dublin South-Central TD said neutrality for the majority of Irish people “arises from our experience of colonialism. It is linked to an anticolonial sentiment. We do not want to support any empire. We know that behind the sweet talk of defending small nations lies a brutal arrogance.”

She said “there are still colonies left, Palestine being one of them. There is a hierarchy in this world and it is based on military and economic power. That hierarchy is called imperialism.”

Ms Smith said “the plain reality is that you want to remove the triple lock because you want us to move from a sideline substitute in US imperialism to a full player. That is what you want. You want to send Irish troops abroad to fight wars on behalf of the US and the European Union.”

But Mr Fleming insisted that her party were “on the wrong side of history” and said he had never in his lifetime an invasion of Russia into Europe.

He said PBP talked about neutrality or military neutrality. “You know and we all know the Irish people are not one bit neutral when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. We are not a neutral country politically or ideologically.”

Ireland is not neutral when it comes to an aggressive country “killing innocent people who are powerless to defend themselves. Similarly Irish people are not one bit neutral it comes to Russia and Ukraine and what Putin has done in Ukraine.”

But Ms Smith reiterated that she was opposed to “the US empire and I equally oppose their Russian and China rivals”.

Her party colleague Richard Boyd Barrett said that “Fianna Fáil leaders had gone over and hobnobbed with Putin. We never have. In fact we have comrades languishing in Russian prisons at the moment because they oppose Putin’s bloody war in Ukraine.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times