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Taoiseach says Ireland's non-lethal military support for Ukraine is 'sufficient' as EU members are sending weapons

Micheál Martin said it would be “unthinkable” for the EU not to send arms to Ukraine.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking in Dublin today.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking in Dublin today.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

Updated Feb 28th 2022, 1:36 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that Ireland’s “main contribution” to the European Union’s unprecedented military support to Ukraine will be the provision of medical supplies.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Martin described this contribution as “sufficient” and dismissed a suggestion by that Ireland could provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.

The EU yesterday confirmed that it would fund arms supplies to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russia, with a €500 million package of military support being prepared.

The military package was agreed under the European Peace Facility mechanism, which allows for lethal weapons to be supplied by the EU to prevent conflict.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said today that, under the mechanism, countries like Ireland uncomfortable with supplying lethal arms have the ability to supply non-lethal military aid.

Malta and Austria are understood to be taking the same approach.

“We decided last night that this is going to be a €500 million package, so half a billion Euro, to support the Ukrainian military and Ireland will contribute fully our fair share to that fund, which will be about 1.9% or about €9 million in that overall effort,” Coveney said. 

“Our money will be used for non-lethal weapons, things like helmets, protection, vests, medical case fuel, that kind of stuff.

Whereas for the other countries that are uncomfortable in purchasing lethal weapons, they will be buying things like anti-tank defence systems, anti-aircraft systems, missiles, that kind of thing.

An Taoiseach said today that it was “very understandable” that the EU mechanism has been used for the first time. 

“This is the first time ever that the European peace facility has been used for sending lethal weapons to a given conflict situation. It has been used for non-lethal force in Mali and other locations. So I think it’s very, very understandable, given the fact that the Ukrainian people are under such attack,” he said. 

Our contribution to the non-lethal strand of that peace facility does not undermine our military neutrality. We are not politically neutral, and have never been politically neutral in the sense that we uphold democratic values and democratic principles. And that is why the peace facility has been constructed in that way.

“The bottom line is we’re not funding defence but we are going to contribute and Ireland’s main contribution here would be in the field of medical supplies, humanitarian supplies. We certainly cannot prevent our colleagues in Europe from responding to the call of Ukrainians to defend themselves against a brutal on justifiable attack, I think it would be unthinkable.”

Speaking this morning, independent TD and former Defence Forces Army Ranger Cathal Berry suggested that anti-tank missiles held by Ireland’s Defence Forces could be sent to Ukraine. 

Martin said such question does not arise: 

I think what we’re doing is sufficient. I don’t think that would be an issue now with European Peace Facility having been activated to provide lethal weapons which come from the European Union, so it doesn’t arise in those terms.

The invasion of Ukraine has now entered into its fifth day, with missiles hitting a radioactive waste site in Kyiv raising concerns from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In Belarus this morning, Russia and Ukraine met for their first talks since the outbreak of war last week. Martin said he welcomed that dialogue had opened. 

“Dialogue is the only way to resolve this issue on and I would call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and end to the violence. The humanitarian toll is mounting, there’s too much loss of live already, civilians have been injured, civilians are under siege in cities and towns across the Ukraine,” he said. 

Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons capabilities to be put on a high-alert status. An Taoiseach described this as “extremely reckless and irresponsible”. 

002 NO REPRO FEE Gov Announcement (1) Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney Source: TOM HONAN

Coveney said there was  no justification” for the threat of using nuclear weapons.

“Ireland has long argued that nuclear weapons offer no security, and their use would result in devastating humanitarian consequences,” he said. 

The minister also said that Putin agreed as the head of one of five so-called ‘nuclear weapon states’ last month that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.

“I call for Russia to immediately revoke the order to place nuclear weapons on high-alert status, and I urge maximum restraint, de-escalation and the avoidance of any nuclear rhetoric which will only worsen an already dangerous and unpredictable situation,” Coveney added.

Russian Ambassador

Both Coveney and Martin said today there were currently no plans to expel the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.

“The expulsion of diplomats or Russian staff in embassies is quite a significant thing to do. It sends a very strong signal and Russia will respond in kind,” Coveney said.

“I think it’s likely that something will happen in that space, but we do need to be targeted. We need to bear in mind the interests of Irish citizens, both in Russia and across Ukraine.”

Martin also raised the effect that a retaliatory action could have on Irish citizens in Russia:  

Diplomatic channels are there for a reason, for a number of reasons, the most key one being that we have a capacity to handle Irish citizens in different locations across the world, not least in Moscow. Also to have a good sense of insight and to have an informed sense of what is happening in the key capitals.We don’t quite know for certain how this crisis will unfold. So keeping channels open, gives us an extra capacity to help citizens, Irish citizens could be in difficulty, or family members of Ukrainian Irish citizens who live in Ireland. So it’s extremely important that we retain that capacity.

An Taoiseach added that any decision on expelling ambassadors would be made at an EU level.  

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier urged the European Union to grant his country immediate membership.

“We appeal to the European Union for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure,” he said.

Asked about this request today, Martin said that while he favours an accelerated process for prospective EU members, he was unsure whether Ukraine could join “immediately”. 

“I don’t know whether it can be done immediately. But I certainly would be a proponent and supporter of accelerating it and making it very clear that they can become members of the European Union,” he said.

“I’ve always favoured the acceleration of the European perspective for countries in our neighbourhood.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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