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Taoiseach says expulsion of Russian diplomat from Ireland is an 'act of solidarity' with the UK

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that when it comes to the use of chemical weapons Ireland is “not neutral one bit”.

Updated 4.30pm

Source: PA Images

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said “Ireland as a country has no quarrel with the Russian people” but added that the decision to expel a Russian diplomat from the country is an “act of solidarity” with the UK.

Earlier today, the government announced that Ireland is to expel one Russian diplomat.

It follows the poisoning of a former Russian agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England on 4 March.

The decision was discussed by the government at Cabinet this morning.

In a statement, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that he had met with the Russian ambassador and informed him “that the accreditation of a member of his staff with diplomatic status is to be terminated”.

“The individual in question is required to leave the jurisdiction.”

The Minister said that the decision was made following an assessment conducted by the security services and relevant government departments.

“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals, by anyone, anywhere, is particularly shocking and abhorrent,” Simon Coveney said.

“The attack in Salisbury was not just an attack against the United Kingdom, but an affront to the international rules-base system on which we all depend for our security and wellbeing.”

The British government has placed blame for the incident firmly at the feet of Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin.

Thus far, more than a dozen countries, including the US, France, Italy and Germany,  have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK.

At a meeting of the European Council last week, EU leaders agreed with the UK government’s assessment that Russia was highly likely to have been involved in the attack and that there was “no plausible alternative explanation”, Minister Simon Coveney said.

This point was reiterated by the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon.

Reaction 

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil that she had no problem condemning the use of chemical agents, stating that it is “utterly unacceptable”.

However, she said the decision to expel a foreign diplomat was not evidence-based.

McDonald said relying on foreign intelligence in such an important decision is a significant departure from government policy, stating that the Dáil was essentially being told to “trust Boris Johnson”. She also criticised the Taoiseach for jeopardising Ireland’s neutrality.

“In terms of evidence, the decision was made in solidarity with the UK, but the decision on which person to ask to leave was based on intelligence and advice from Garda intelligence and Defence Forces intelligence,” said the Taoiseach.

He added:

When it comes to terrorism, assassinations, the use of chemical weapons and cyberterrorism, we are not neutral one bit.  We are joined with other neutral countries including Finland and Sweden, who have taken the same course of action as us, in expelling diplomats.

The Taoiseach told McDonald that Fianna Fáil had been briefed ahead of today’s announcement, as there is a commitment in the confidence and supply agreement to have “no surprises” on such matters. However, he said the Tánaiste Simon Coveney is also happy to brief other parties.

Solidarity-PBP Richard Boyd Barrett said the decision to expel the diplomat showed utter hypocrisy on the part of the Taoiseach.

Last week, the Dun Laoghaire TD asked the Taoiseach to call in the Russian ambassador over the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta in Syria. He said this request was ignored.

He criticised the government for now taking action when the evidence has not been independently verified. He dubbed the expulsion of the Russian diplomat as “stupid” and “dangerous”, adding that a Dáil vote on the matter should have been called.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said that the Irish government is right to act in solidarity with the UK through ousting Russian diplomats.

“Two people are continuing to fight for their lives, a police officer was injured and it is yet unknown how many innocent members of the general public have been affected.”

“The EU must stand together. It must stand against attempts to undermine western democracies.

We have seen how Russia destabilised the Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea, carried out cyber-attacks in the Baltic States, had direct interventions in elections – in particular the 2016 US election and continues to rally right-wing populist parties across Europe.

Last night, Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live that Ireland should use ‘common sense’ when considering any move against diplomats based here.

Speaking to reporters at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), Acting Garda Commissioner Donal O Cúaláin said gardaí have built up considerable capability in the area of security over years of dealing with domestic terrorism.

He said the role of gardaí in this matter was “to assess intelligence available to us through our intelligence services and make an assessment on that”.

He said he was satisfied with the accuracy of the assessment but declined to explain who this assessment was made.

When asked about the risk of espionage, he said:

“Historically, we had our own issues in this country to deal with and we still have a focus in that area as well. In more recent times the situation has shifted to a more international setting.”

With reporting by Christine Bohan, Gráinne Ní Aodha, Christina Finn and Garreth MacNamee. 

Read: New Young Fine Gael chairman says his ‘coathanger abortion’ comment was ‘atrocious’

Read: Putin says Russia shopping centre fire that killed 41 children was ‘criminal negligence’

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