Reaction to Zelenskiy’s comment on Ireland ‘overstated’, says Taoiseach

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba says ‘Ireland is at the forefront within the EU’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has played down comments by Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelenskiy, who told EU leaders at the Brussels summit that Ireland was "almost" supporting Ukraine.

The comments were contained in a transcript of Mr Zelenskiy’s speech, which was released overnight by the Ukrainian government.

Mr Zelenskiy appeared to single out Ireland as a country that "almost" stands with Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion, in an address to European Union leaders at the Brussels summit.

The Ukrainian leader spoke to the 27 leaders over video call from Kyiv and thanked member states one by one for standing with Ukraine, in particular eastern and Baltic allies, saying "Lithuania stands for us. Latvia stands for us. Estonia stands for us. Poland stands for us."


But Ireland was among the member states he appeared to describe as not offering full support. “Ireland – well, almost,” Mr Zelenskiy said, according to a translation of his remarks released by the Kyiv government early on Friday.

Micheál Martin spoke to reporters as he entered the summit venue for the second day of the meeting. “That wouldn’t have been my read of it. He was actually talking in terms of the European perspective ... I wouldn’t have taken the same slant that some may be taking from it.”

Last night, speaking after the summit had concluded, Mr Martin again played down the Ukrainian president's remarks, saying Mr Zelenskiy was fully aware of Ireland's contributions to his country and grateful for them.

“I think it’s been overstated, to be frank,” Mr Martin said.

EU membership

Mr Martin said he spoke to Mr Zelenskiy last week when he was in Washington and he had “a very comprehensive oversight of Ireland’s contributions, both in terms of even the 20 million humanitarian aid in terms of the peace facility, and also in terms of the humanitarian response”.

He said that Mr Zelenskiy had “thanked me personally for our support of the Ukrainian European perspective”.

Mr Martin said he had been “really strong in relation to supporting Ukraine’s membership of the European Union. I’ve consistently said this, and would be supportive of Lithuania and others, and I’ve argued that the whole application process is too slow.”

“And obviously, I mean, one can surmise on one word, and I think we can over-interpret that as well, to be fair, because you know, our contact with the embassy of Ukraine in Dublin has been pretty clear,” Mr Martin said.

The Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs on Friday evening publicly thanked Ireland for joining the The Group of Friends of Accountability, an informal forum of countries expressing an intent to ensure that international crimes perpetrated since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia a month ago be punished.

Welcoming the move, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said his government was "grateful to our Irish partners for joining the Group of Friends of Accountability today. Undoubtedly, Ireland is at the forefront within the EU and beyond providing essential support for Ukraine in all possible ways."

Waiving visas

Ireland also moved early to waive visas for Ukrainians before the EU moved as a whole and has sent humanitarian aid, with the Government repeatedly expressing full solidarity with the country.

However, Mr Zelenskiy’s remarks may refer to Ireland’s decision not to send military aid to the country. The Government opted to send medical and humanitarian supplies alone, staying out of a joint €1 billion fund for arms for Ukraine supported by almost all other EU countries.

The official Ukrainian transcript of Mr Zelenskiy's speech translated the words as "well, almost". However, the simultaneous translation while Mr Zelenskiy was speaking to the European Council translated as "well, practically". This was referenced by the Taoiseach this morning when questioned on the issue. However, a Ukrainian speaker consulted by The Irish Times said the best translation was "well, almost" and that the sense of Mr Zelenskiy's remarks was that Irish support for Ukraine was less vigorous than other countries.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times