Ireland is ‘not neutral’, says Tánaiste as 70 Irish citizens remain in Ukraine

Varadkar said the government will ‘fully support’ sanctions against Russia

There are around 70 Irish citizens currently in Ukraine, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said, and has advised them to "shelter in a secure place".

Mr Varadkar said Irish citizens should consider leaving Ukraine if they “judge it is safe to do so depending on their location and prevailing circumstances”.

Speaking during Leader’s Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said the capacity of Ireland’s’s embassy in Ukraine to provide consular assistance in the period ahead “unfortunately may be extremely limited” due to the security situation.

He said the Irish ambassador and her team are currently in a “safe location” in Kyiv and the Department of Foreign Affairs will remain in close contact with them.


Mr Varadkar said there is ongoing engagement between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice to ensure arrangements are in place for family members of Irish citizens to leave Ukraine if they need to.

The Tánaiste said the Irish Government will "fully support" any additional sanctions against Russia, including "those of a financial nature in relation to banking and financial services, aviation and any other matters".

Mr Varadkar said a wide ranging package of EU sanctions against Russia will come into effect on Friday.

This includes an EU travel ban and an asset freeze for all 351 members of the Russian parliament who voted in Favour of this violation of international law, he said.

There will also be an asset freeze and a travel ban on senior decision makers, business figures, military officers and persons involved in “leading a disinformation war against Ukraine”.

Mr Varadkar said the package also targets the ability of the Russian State and Government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets and services.

"Today, the European Council will meet to finalise further sanctions against Russia, to discuss how to protect the rules based international order, how to hold Russia to account for its actions, and how the European Union can provide further support to Ukraine," he added.

‘Not neutral’

Mr Varadkar said while Ireland was militarily neutral, "in this conflict Ireland is not neutral at all".

“Our support for Ukraine is unwavering and unconditional,” he said. “At this moment in a European nation not too far from here, families are leaving their homes, children are being bundled into cars and martial law has been introduced in the face of an unwarranted and unjustified attack.

“This is an act of aggression, it is unprecedented in the 21st century and gives us grim echoes of a much darker past.”

Mr Varadkar also said if the situation continues to unfold in Ukraine, there is "a real probability that the price of food will go up" in Ireland and western Europe.

“We’ve benefited from cheap food for a very long time and I think the price of food is going to go up.”

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said "significant and severe economic sanctions" must follow and such breaches of international law "cannot pass without response".

"Sanctions need to be targeted not only at Russian Government, but also directed at the assets of those connected to Putin's state apparatus, many of whom live or hold significant assets in European capitals," he said .

The Donegal TD said the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin was a "major source" of finance to the Russian economy, with €118 billion funneled from there to Russia between 2005 and 2017, "second only in Europe to Luxembourg".

Very critical

Mr Varadkar said he welcomed Sinn Féin’s support on the matter and pointed to 2018, following on from the Salisbury nerve agent attack, when Mary Lou McDonald was “very critical of us for expelling a Russian diplomat at the time”.

“She said it was a violation of our neutrality, for us to expel a Russian diplomat,” Mr Varadkar said. “The Taoiseach has raised it before, I’ve never said anything about it, for a long time your party has been soft on Russia.

“As recently as three years ago, you described the expulsion of a Russian diplomat as a violation of our neutrality, and I welcome the fact that on this issue, you finally come to your senses and you finally realise what Putin is and the Russian regime.”

Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan said it was not the time for "political scoring" from any sides of the Oireachtas.

He said what was being witnessed in Europe was “unprecedented since the Second World War”.

Later, Peace and Neutrality Alliance chairman Roger Cole insisted there was no reason for Ireland to review its policy of neutrality and went on to argue that the US should share some of the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Because of a failure of negotiation I am saying all sides including the USA are responsible for the crisis,” he said.

Shared blame

Asked if he was saying Washington should share some of the blame for the Russian assault, he said: “I do think the US shares responsibility in refusing to agree the statement they made…to the Soviet Union that they would not expend [Nato] to the borders of Russia with their military armed nuclear expansion… That’s definitely a contribution.”

Mr Cole said his group was “totally opposed” to Russia’s attack on Ukraine in same way as it totally opposed the invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in 2003 by a US-led coalition.

Asked if there was anything in the Russian assault on Ukraine that should lead to any questioning of Irish neutrality, Mr Cole replied: “No. In fact it should emphasise that we should stay neutral, that we shouldn’t get involved in inter-imperial wars.”

When it was put to him that Ukraine was not an empire, he said: “Ukraine is a sovereign state like Iraq that was invaded and conquered by in this Russia just the way Iraq was invaded and conquered by the US.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times