“Ireland is not neutral” when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Foreign Affairs Minister has told Newstalk Breakfast.
Simon Coveney said that while Ireland is not militarily aligned with anyone and is not a member of NATO, “we are not neutral on an issue like this”.
“This is an act of blatant aggression on a country in Europe - right next door to the European Union - by Russia,” he said.
“Ireland is certainly not going to be neutral on what is happening today and that is why we will work with our EU colleagues and indeed other partners around the world who will want to defend the rule of law and democracy which is being blatantly undermined and attacked by aggression right on our doorstep.”
He rejected the suggestion he was describing a “strange form of neutrality”.
“I won’t let that pass,” he said. “Irish neutrality is based on Ireland - the Irish parliament and the Irish people - making decisions in terms of what we do and what we say and when we intervene.
“Neutrality doesn’t mean we stay out of everything when we have a moral obligation to do the opposite and our Constitution requires it of us also in terms of being part of the international community and respecting international law – all of which is being broken today.
“So yes, neutrality means Ireland makes its own decisions and we are not bound by others and others’ decisions, but this is certainly not something to be neutral on.”
Minister Coveney said the EU will today impose “very strong” restrictions on Russia in response to the invasion.
“[European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen has been very strong already this morning, calling this essentially a war about the future of our global community and saying President Putin is looking to replace the rule of law with the rule of force and brutality,” he said.
He said EU leaders now have no choice but to increase sanctions significantly.
“Unfortunately, and I am sad to have to say it, but diplomacy to this point has failed and clearly Russia has been lying to us for quite some time and has been planning this invasion because it is happening in a way that is highly organized through the last few hours,” he said.
“This is effectively an invasion the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen since the Second World War and it really is horrific that we are seeing the security of the EU, that has been built up over many decades, now being set aside."
He said he hasn’t seen anything unite the EU like this in the past.
“Not in a way that is focused on a military response but certainly, I think you will see a very, very strong sanctions package approved later on today,” he said.
This morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs urged all Irish citizens in Ukraine shelter in a secure place, avoid travel and follow the advice of local authorities.
Minister Coveney said there are about 64 citizens in Ukraine, some of whom have made it clear they wish to remain.
He noted that it is no longer possible for anyone who wants to leave to do so by air, adding that he expects to see “hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainians crossing into the EU by land in the coming days and weeks.
There are two couples in Ukraine who have travelled to Ukraine in relation to surrogacy and he said his department is working with those families closely to ensure they are safe and their babies are safe.
Earlier on the show, Irishman Brendan Murphy, who lives in Kyiv with his family, criticised the Government for failing to make travel to Ireland from Ukraine visa-free as other European countries have done.
Mr Murphy has been unable to leave and told Shane that the “window of opportunity is now very narrow” for his family.
Minister Coveney said Ireland is likely to implement a visa-waiver in the coming days.
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