Evening top 5: Russia rejects UK midnight ultimatum; Harris cancels St Patrick's Day tour; Tillerson calls for orderly transition

The top stories of the day on Newstalk.com

Russia rejects midnight ultimatum over UK nerve agent attack

The Taoiseach has said the EU will stand behind Britain after a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has said it is “highly likely” Russia was behind the attack – and warned of potential sanctions against the Eastern power if it does not provide answers by midnight tonight.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia both remain in a critical condition after being found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury nine days ago.

In a series of tweets this evening, the Russian embassy in London again protested the Kremlin’s innocence and insisted it would not respond to the ultimatum until it “receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.”

Harris cancels St Patrick's Day tour over ongoing trolley crisis

The Minister for Health has cancelled his St Patrick’s Day trip to Belgium and the Netherlands due to the ongoing hospital trolley crisis.

The number of patients waiting on trolleys eased slightly today after yesterday’s record high of 714.

However there was little sign of the crisis abating, with 649 people on trolleys and wards this morning according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

In a tweet this evening Health Minister Simon Harris said it wouldn’t feel right to travel during what is a “difficult week.”

Sacked US Secretary of State Tillerson calls for "orderly transition"

Sacked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he will remain at the White House until the end of the month to ensure a "smooth and orderly transition."

In a statement to reporters hours after US President Donald Trump sacked him in a tweet; Mr Tillerson paid tribute to those who work in the department.

He urged those who have been working for him to "remain at their post and continue our mission."

"We all took the same oath of office," he said.

Juncker insists post-Brexit border "is not an Irish issue - it is a European issue"

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted the remaining EU member states 'stand firm and united' when it comes to Ireland and Brexit.

Mr Juncker was addressing the European Parliament earlier today on potential plans for future EU and UK relations.

He stressed the EU needed 'further clarity' from the UK in order to reach an understanding.

He observed: "As the clock counts down, with one year to go, it is now time to translate speeches into treaties; to turn commitments into agreements; broad suggestions and wishes on the future relationship to specific, workable solutions."

Major gang suspected of smuggling people into Ireland dismantled in Spain

Gardaí are assisting Spanish police after they arrested 155 people and dismantled an alleged international people smuggling ring.

Spanish authorities suspect the gang of helping Chinese people illegally enter Ireland and the UK.

The arrests come after a three-year investigation in Spain. The majority of the 155 people arrested are of Chinese nationality and the four alleged leaders of the gang are among them.

Police have said the four leaders of the network have now been detained.