Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, either did not know what was going to happen in Ukraine or he deliberately misled the Irish public, an Oireachtas Committee and the Minister as well.
It had become clear in recent days that the Russians had been planning the attack on Ukraine for many months, Mr Coveney told Newstalk Breakfast. The ambassador was “part of that system” and people could make their own judgement.
In the meantime, the advice to the estimated 70 to 90 Irish citizens still in Ukraine was to get out if it was safe to do so through a neighbouring country, if it was not safe to move then they should stay “in situ”.
The Irish Government had a responsibility also to the babies born to Irish parents through surrogacy, he added. That was why lines of communication with Moscow must remain open, he explained.
Later on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland Mr Coveney said that no country in the EU was looking to expel ambassadors. The EU would act together to look at options that would send “a clear diplomatic signal” to Moscow. The expulsion of staff (from the embassy) would send a strong signal and Russia would probably respond in the same way, he warned.
The Minister also explained Ireland’s decision to “constructively abstain” from contributing to an EU package to provide nearly half a billion euro of funding for lethal equipment in Ukraine.
Mr Coveney said that when the peace facility was agreed in the EU last year a compromise was made for countries not comfortable with the funding of lethal weapons. Instead Ireland will contribute €9 million to the non-lethal EU fund which will include helmets, medical equipment, kits.
The EU was right to intervene in this way, he said. If the EU did not Ukraine then their moral substance would be questioned.
In the past 24 hours 77,000 people from Ukraine had crossed the border into Poland, 25,000 into the Czech Republic, 90,000 into Romania and 60,000 into Hungary, said Mr Coveney. The UN was estimating that 18 million Ukrainians could be in need of assistance, four million would be refugees and 7 million would be displaced in their own country. “This is the scale of conflict.”
The EU response was one that had never been seen before.
Mr Coveney said that his job was to protect Irish citizens and to do that he had to keep the lines of communication open even if he fundamentally disagreed with the people with whom he was communicating. It would not be wise to expel the Ambassador and not have a direct line to Moscow. But he understood the sentiment when there were calls for the expulsion of the Ambassador.
On Sunday, members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party were circulating a draft petition calling for Mr Filatov’s expulsion, which had attracted signatures from 13 TDs.
It followed comments from Mr Coveney, who told the Sunday Independent he felt it was important to keep diplomatic channels open with Russia – a view mirrored by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan.
Senior Government sources fear Moscow would close the Irish embassy there in retaliation, amid ongoing demand for consular services.
Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, who is chairman of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee and a former minister for justice, called on Mr Filatov to leave the country, saying he “lied to our parliamentary committee” when he appeared before it earlier in February.
Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators have also doubled down on their own petition, launched last week, to expel Mr Filatov.
Government sources said there was less emphasis on expulsions in Brussels, with fears over how they could impact the functioning of humanitarian corridors – although they remain on the table. Coalition leaders are thought to be of the view that lines to Moscow need to remain open and are worried about sparking tit-for-tat expulsions.