Taoiseach, Tánaiste defend expulsion of Russian diplomat from Ireland

Around two dozen countries have expelled diplomats in solidarity with the UK

Taoiseach, Tánaiste defend expulsion of Russian diplomat from Ireland

The entrance to the Russian Embassy in Dublin. Picture by: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated: 19.35

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended a decision to expel a Russian diplomat from the country in solidarity with the United Kingdom.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland is not neutral when it comes to assassinations or the use of chemical weapons.

Answering questions in the Dáil, he said the Government will withdraw the papers of one of the Russian embassy's diplomatic staff.

Mr Varadkar was asked if this would impact Ireland's neutrality.

He said the Government will stand stand in solidarity with the UK on the issue.

"In relation to our neutrality, Ireland is a neutral country - we do not join military alliances, we will not be joining NATO, we will not be part of a European army.

"However when it comes to terrorism, assassinations and the use of chemical weapons and cyber-terrorism we are not neutral one bit.

"And we are joined of course in expelling diplomats with other countries that are also neutral, including Finland and Sweden, who have taken the same course of action as us."

"We affirm that all EU member states stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to... our shared security.

"The use of chemical weapons, including the use of toxic chemicals as weapons, by anyone anywhere is particularly loathsome and reprehensible.

"And the attack in Salisbury was not just an attack on the United Kingdom, but an affront to the international rules based order, on which we all depend for our security and well-being".

The Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, has described the decision to expel a Russian diplomat as "unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable".

Mr Filatov again denied that Russia was involved in the nerve attack.

"There was no, none, Russian involvement in Salisbury incident.

"And it is high time that Great Britain stop misleading its own public, and well as (the) international community."

"This kind of decision is totally unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable."

"We had a choice to make"

While Foreign Affairs Minister and Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "While the expulsion of diplomats is entirely a matter for national decision, it was agreed that (EU) member states should co-ordinate as far as possible.

"Yesterday, 16 EU member states announced that they will expel Russian diplomats. This is a clear majority of member states."

"The United States, Canada, Norway, Australia, and other countries with which we have excellent relations, have taken similar steps.

"In total 100 Russia diplomats have been expelled.

"President Tusk has said that additional measures within a common EU framework cannot be excluded in the coming days and weeks."

Mr Coveney said he met with Ambassador Filatov following Tuesday's Cabinet meeting "and informed him that the accreditation of a member of his staff with diplomatic status is to be terminated".

The individual in question is required to leave Ireland "within a short specified timeframe", Minister Coveney said.

"It is true that we are not in a position to independently verify the United Kingdom’s assessment of responsibility for Salisbury.

"But I underline that the evidence advanced by the UK, and confirmed by other key countries, convinced all 27 other EU leaders, and has impelled them to act."

"We had a choice to make - either to act in solidarity with our closest neighbour or to sit on our hands and do nothing.

"We had an obligation to act and to send a clear signal that what happened in Salisbury was unacceptable. We recognise it is important to maintain good relations with Russia, but we needed to respond", Mr Coveney added.

 "Stupid and Dangerous"

However, the decision has been labelled "stupid and dangerous" by the opposition.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said there is no evidence available to back up Britain's stance and warned that the Government had made the wrong decision.

"Simon Coveney's statement has provided absolutely no evidence as to an independent assessment by the Irish government as to who carried out this atrocity," he said.

"Indeed the Taoiseach last week said Ireland did not have the resources to carry out such an independent investigation.

"So this is purely based on assertions without evidence."

Sources from the Department of Foreign Affairs have said there would be no grounds for retaliation from the Russian side to Ireland's expulsion of a diplomat, and say any retaliation against Irish officials would be entirely without foundation.

 Ireland joins around two dozen other countries - including the UK, US, Australia, Canada and 14 other EU member states - in expelling diplomats in solidarity with the UK, following the Salisbury nerve agent attack earlier this month.

The British government has accused the Kremilin of responsibility for the attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia - either by directly ordering the attack, or through losing control of the Soviet Union developed nerve agent allegedly used.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that the international expulsions show that "we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to the Kremlin that Russia cannot continue to flout international law and threaten our security".

"Mirror-like response"

The Russian government, meanwhile, has vowed a 'mirror-like' response, accusing British allies of 'blindly following the principle of Euro-Atlantic unity at the expense of common sense'.

The Russian foreign ministry added: "It goes without saying that this unfriendly move by this group of countries will not go unnoticed, and we will respond to it."

Russian authorities previously expelled 23 British diplomats in response to a similar move by Theresa May.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital following the Salisbury attack on March 4th.

Reporting by Sean Defoe, Stephen McNeice and Jack Quann