Sinn Féin does not regret opposition to 2018 expulsion of Russian diplomat – Kerrane

Sinn Féin has said it does not regret its opposition to the expulsion of a Russian diplomat from Ireland in 2018 after Russian agents poisoned the dissident Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.

The party’s welfare spokeswoman, Claire Kerrane, said there was no inconsistency between its position four years ago and now, where it has called for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador Yury Filatov.

She also denied that Sinn Féin has “flip-flopped” its position in relation to Russia since the outbreak of the Ukrainian war.

“I would not say we regret it,” said Ms Kerrane on Tuesday. “We had our position at the time. It was well known. It was put out there. We are now in a very, very, very different situation in relation to the conflict that’s there in Ukraine, of people being absolutely bombed and killed every single day.

“So we have a very firm position in relation to what Russia is doing.

“This will only be solved by discussions, by getting around the table, that is the only way conflict will be solved.”

Following the poisoning, Ireland was one of a number of European Union countries that expelled diplomats.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald harshly criticised the decision of then taoiseach Leo Varadkar to expel a diplomat .

Describing it as “a flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality” Ms McDonald said the decision was based on information from a foreign security intelligence service, which was an unprecedented step. “Essentially, we are being asked to trust Boris Johnson. Dare I say that this might not be the best course of action?” she said.

A comprehensive investigation by the investigative group Bellingcat subsequently proved the two men who poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal were agents with the Russian secret service.

In a policy paper on Irish neutrality published afterwards, Sinn Féin renewed its criticism of the expulsions. “The escalation of involvement with EU military structures and the recent expulsion of a Russian diplomat in supposed solidarity with another EU member state under the pretence of common defence and security co-operation (CDSC) clearly shows that this government is prepared to sacrifice our neutrality and independent foreign policy at the altar of European integration unless stopped,” it said.

Ms Kerrane said: “We did not call for an expulsion at the time. But now we’re in a very different space. It’s a very different situation now.”

She said things have changed drastically: “Our position in relation to the situation now was very clear in the midst of this war.”

Energy costs

Ms Kerrane was speaking to reporters at Leinster House. She again called on the Government to take action in relation to energy costs, particularly home heating. She said some of the reductions and payments that have been made – especially the lump sum payment announced on Monday – were welcome but she argued the Government needed to go further.

“We have asked for over a year now for a discretionary fund to be established, a discretionary fund of €15 million to assist those families and those households specifically who are locked out of the fuel allowance . . . We know, of course, that for those that work 30 hours or more any week, they cannot access the exceptional needs payment. This leaves workers and families and households with no assistance whatsoever in relation to home heating, and in particular home heating oil which the vast majority of people I represent and in the western northwest rely on to heat their homes.”

She said her party had brought forward a package of measures that would cost between €1 billion and € 1.4 billion, which would be covered largely by the €1.2 billion the party estimates the Government will take in extra revenues from VAT because of fuel increases.

On the removal by Sinn Féin of thousands of press releases from its website, Ms Kerrane said that some 52,000 press releases were being archived as they were beginning to slow down the site. She said all of those releases were public documents that were released to the media and were therefore accessible.

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