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Joint Committee on European Union Affairs debate -
Wednesday, 27 Apr 2022

Russia's Invasion of Ukraine: Engagement with Ambassadors of Moldova and Romania

The purpose of today's meeting is to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as the committee's recent travel episode to Romania and Moldova. I acknowledge the members who participated in the recent visit to Moldova and Romania. Senator Regina Doherty and Deputies Brendan Howlin and John Brady travelled along with me. I also acknowledge Darren Kelly, the policy official to the committee, who travelled with us, our ambassador in Bucharest, H.E. Paul McGarry, who looked after logistics while we were there, and the clerk to the committee, Mr. Barry Kavanagh, who helped to pull the programme together. In particular, I thank the people of Moldova and Romania who gave us a great welcome and a privileged insight into all the good things taking place in both countries in response to the humanitarian crisis. The committee will have an opportunity today to hear the members who were part of that programme give their insights and observations.

Unfortunately, many of the predictions and observations we heard in Moldova and Romania are coming to pass. Ireland also faces challenges regarding how we greet and welcome Ukrainian refugees and put together proper programmes for dealing with them. If there are learnings from Romania or Moldova, this meeting will be an opportunity to discuss them. We have produced a report on our visit, which will be published within the next week. We met many representatives of NGOs and government officials and ministers. Their key insights and observations will be helpful in the overall conversation.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet, ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to Ireland, and her colleagues. I also welcome H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan, ambassador of Romania to Ireland, and his colleagues.

Before we begin, all witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if the statement of a witness is potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, the witness will be directed to discontinue these remarks. It is imperative that he or she complies with any such direction.

For witnesses attending the meeting remotely from outside the Leinster House complex, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should be mindful of domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence they give.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or against an official either by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Before I call on H.E. Mrs. Miculet to make her opening statement, I acknowledge the presence of H.E. Mr. George Zurabashvili, the ambassador of Georgia, who is very welcome. It is good to see him again. We will now open the meeting with the opening statement of H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I thank the honourable members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs for the opportunity to make this address on the current situation in regard to Moldova's response to help Ukrainian refugees. I am especially honoured to be in this legislative body today as my people and country celebrate national state flag day today. Our flag is a major official symbol of our independence and sovereignty.

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for taking the initiative to discuss, in the committee’s sessions on March 15 and today, these extremely important issues for my country and also for organising the visit of a cross-party delegation of the committee to Moldova to show solidarity with us and find out how the situation has evolved in my country and what more can be done to support us.

I also express our most sincere appreciation to the leadership of Ireland for the involvement and the assistance announced for Moldova in managing the flow of Ukrainian refugees by relocating 500 refugees from the Republic of Moldova to Ireland and for targeting €1 million for the Republic of Moldova out of the assistance allocated by the Irish Government for the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. In addition, I thank the Irish people, including members of the Moldovan diaspora, for collecting and sending humanitarian aid to my country. Our gratitude also goes to the RTÉ television news crew and The Irish Times newspaper leadership for providing to Irish society comprehensive, on-the-spot information about Moldova’s response to refugee flow.

Unfortunately, as we meet today, further tragedy is taking place in Ukraine and this tragedy is difficult to put into words. The world has recently witnessed even more shocking atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine.

It is hard to believe that all of these crimes are happening in the 21st century, just at our border, in our neighbour and friend Ukraine. Meanwhile, some dangerous incidents and attempts to destabilise the situation in the Transnistrian region were registered recently. These pose high security risks for my country.

Let me reiterate that our country's position on the war in Ukraine is clear, firm and leaves no room for interpretation. The Republic of Moldova strongly condemns the war of Russia against Ukraine and demanded from the first day of military aggression that this war has be stopped. My country has voted in favour of diplomatic statements condemning the war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and co-authored resolutions adopted at the UN.

The Government of the Republic of Moldova has provided to Ukraine humanitarian aid worth 24 million lei in two instalments. These are in Odessa, which is near my country, and in Vinnytsia on the other side. It is ready to help our neighbours more. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine because of the war. At our meeting on 15 March, I briefed the esteemed members of the committee on our actions. I stated the Republic of Moldova had firmly demonstrated its commitment and engagement in ensuring international protection for those seeking refuge in Moldova. The government has taken co-ordinated action to manage transit and refugee flows from Ukraine. State institutions, tens of thousands of people, volunteers, police officers, public servants, medical doctors, mayors, executives and ordinary citizens all mobilised to help.

Since the onset of the conflict, more than 425,000 refugees have crossed into Moldova. Some have been assisted to travel onwards to other countries, including through pledges made by EU countries to receive refugees from Moldova in an effort to share responsibility and reduce pressure on neighbouring countries. Ireland is included in this. The Republic of Moldova continues to host more than 95,000 refugees. Of these, 91,000 are Ukrainian and we also have other nationalities. With the inter-agency support of international organisations present in Moldova, a response mechanism is being implemented to assist Ukrainian refugees. The mechanism includes measures on protection, accommodation, transportation, education, health and cash-based interventions for refugees. It is important to highlight that cash enrolment in Moldova has been growing rapidly since the programme was launched at the end of March. The figures for cash enrolment vary from country to country. They are not as big or as high in Moldova as elsewhere but the mechanism exists. The goal is to provide cash for approximately 150,000 refugees as well as for Moldovan host families who have opened their homes to refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Many high-level dignitaries of international organisations and our partner countries who visited Moldova have praised the authorities for the robust emergency response at our borders and within the country. They expressed their appreciation for the remarkable solidarity in this regard. At the same time, I am obliged to highlight that this figure of 95,000 refugees is far too large for us and we do not know what to expect with developments near Odessa. Members can probably easily understand this because they can compare it with the number of refugees in Ireland. The number in Moldova is four times bigger. The influx of refugees is placing enormous pressure on my country. Given the scale of this crisis, we need additional support from the international community to be able to provide appropriate assistance and keep the country stable. It is important for all of Europe to have a stable Moldova.

I will name a few urgent needs. We need to strengthen existing national systems to enable them to respond efficiently. For example, 50,000 children have been enrolled in schools so the education system needs support. The health system, the police and many other parts of our national system are also involved in the process. We need to continue relocation of the refugees Up to 19 April, more than 1,000 had been relocated to countries, including Lithuania, Austria, Germany and Latvia. I have requested a meeting with the leadership of the Department of Justice. I have not yet received a reply but I hope it is coming. I want to discuss with it Ireland’s refugee relocation mechanism, which is the responsibility of that Department. I know from being here that when Ireland does something it does so nicely and efficiently. This is probably why it took a bit of time to put the mechanism in place. I am quite sure it will be operational very soon.

We are asking our partners for direct financial assistance. We thank Ireland for helping us in this regard. Generally speaking, I want the committee to understand what we mean by this. We were confronted with a situation whereby big sums of money were announced. Some people were asking the authorities for this money. Sometimes international special mechanisms are very slow. This is why those who assisted us bilaterally were of great help. Everything was very pressing and money did not arrive. Every situation and system response to the conflict is different. Some international organisations are more used to providing tents. In our case, refugees were hosted in homes. This is why another type of response, such as cash interventions for host families and refugees themselves, is necessary. We are working on this and we are grateful the organisations are flexible and are adjusting their activities.

Fortunately, during this difficult time, Moldova has not been left alone and receives assistance in many ways. I mention one such initiative, the support conference for Moldova held in Berlin on 5 April. It was organised by the German Federal Foreign Office and co-hosted by the German, France and Romanian foreign ministers. We thank you for that. That conference was aimed at mobilising immediate international support for our country but it went beyond that. It was aimed at helping us with those other challenges Moldova faces right now relating to the war in Ukraine, which is a conflict at our border. In this context, we also express our appreciation to the Irish authorities for the assistance and support provided to Moldova within this initiative. Ireland participated and we are grateful.

It is clear the war has not only devastated Ukraine but also deeply affected Moldova, with a serious impact on people's lives. It has raised prices for food, fuel and energy. We are also facing the disrupted imports and exports from the eastern markets. That is why we are now looking for some quick solutions to open other markets for our products that we used to export through Ukraine to other parts of the world. In our assessment, we will feel the consequences of the war for a long time. Therefore, we need the support of our partners to strengthen our resilience.

Despite all difficulties and crises, we continue consistently to implement the government’s reform programme with the aim to succeed in building a competitive and resilient country that values its people and invests in them. Allow me to underline Moldova has applied to join the European Union during this difficult time, willing to confirm it wants to be part of the free world, values democracy and believes that in the family of the European Union it can ensure freedom, security and well-being for its citizens. The decision of the Republic of Moldova to apply for European Union membership has been taken in exceptional circumstances, as I have highlighted, but this step fully corresponds with its long-standing European aspirations and strategic European choice that members know about. Within Moldovan society there is a strong sense of expectation and renewed hope linked with the possibility of obtaining EU candidate status. In this context, we are grateful to the EU member states, including Ireland, for their firm and vocal support of our European aspirations and perspective.

In the context of EU work on the assessment of Moldova’s application for membership, as a first step at this important stage, on 22 April, Moldovan President Maia Sandu and Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilia handed over the completed EU questionnaire to the head of the EU delegation to the Republic of Moldova. The questionnaire was completed in just 11 days. This speed clearly shows the determination of the president, government and the whole Moldovan people to do the utmost to bring our country to the European family as quickly as possible. The Republic of Moldova hopes that the European Commission will recommend and that the June European Council set to be held on 23 and 24 June will take a unanimous positive decision to grant Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia candidate status or potential candidate status. In this context, we are counting primarily on Ireland's support to approve granting EU candidate status to Moldova.

We are fully aware, as I said previously, that the accession procedure is long and complex and we are willing to embark on this path. What we need now is a political decision that will be guiding the country for years ahead. We need a clear target and strong political message to mobilise everyone, including society, the business community and authorities around the European integration process. As many members shared with us in the last session, it happened with Ireland as well, at a due time. From this perspective, please allow me to convey to the committee that my government would greatly appreciate Ireland’s further support in managing the refugee flow that is the main topic of today's discussion and also for Moldova’s advancement of the co-operation process with European Union.

I thank H.E. Mrs. Miculet. I invite H.E. Dr. tefan to make his opening statement.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

Chairman, distinguished members of the committee, Mrs. Miculet, I am delighted to have the opportunity to follow up on our discussions of 15 March. I like to think the consistent exchange with me and my fellow ambassadors of Ukraine, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Poland added momentum to members' decision to travel to the countries affected by the humanitarian crisis. I congratulate the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and its leadership on its critical role in responding to the needs of the Irish people to stay tuned to the horrible realities of the war in Ukraine and to remain updated on European Union endeavours to support the people of Ukraine and sanction the aggressor. Although separated by geography, Romania and Ireland are together in these endeavours and contributing to the strong and unprecedented unity of action of the European Union. We may be far apart, at the two extremities of the European Continent, but the ugly realities of the war have shown how close we are and how close we should be in defending our common values, namely, the liberties of our citizens, the democratic backbone of our public lives and the independence and sovereignty of our countries for which our ancestors gave their lives.

With these and upcoming challenges ahead of us, Ireland and Romania should work even closer together. This is already happening. I praise the decision of the committee to send a delegation of its members to Romania and to the Republic of Moldova to witness first-hand how the authorities and peoples of these two countries handle the humanitarian challenges posed by huge numbers of Ukrainians who are fleeing the war to safety. Together, we stand with Ukraine but I am sure that after the meetings in Chiinu, Palanca, Suceava, Siret and Bucharest, Romania and the Republic of Moldova will have an even larger place in your hearts and minds.

Allow me to mention in this context, as Mrs. Miculet did previously, the joint initiative of the Romanian, French and German Governments to raise awareness to the particularly sensitive and difficult situation in the Republic of Moldova in the context of the Russian aggression in neighbouring Ukraine. Following the Moldova support conference organised on 5 of April in Berlin and co-hosted by the foreign ministers of Romania, France and Germany, many countries, including Ireland, pledged specific support to the Republic of Moldova via the Moldova support platform. I take this opportunity to thank Ireland for providing substantial support to the Republic of Moldova in the context of the humanitarian crisis but also in the process of joining the European Union.

The joint support for the Republic of Moldova is only one of the many areas in which Romania and Ireland will work closer together in the future. Later this afternoon, senior officials in the ministries of foreign affairs of our two countries will hold political consultations. It may appear to be a coincidence, but this shows the intensity with which our two countries are prepared to work together. In less than a month, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, Mrs. Daniela Gîtman, will travel to Dublin to engage with her counterpart, the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, and also to meet this committee.

A delegation of the European affairs committee of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies is also scheduled to come to Dublin to consolidate the dialogue at the parliamentary level.

Our bilateral relationship grows stronger and the recent trip of the delegation of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs to Romania was a consistent part of this process. One obvious conclusion after this trip is that our two countries will continue to support the European aspirations of the people of Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.

I thank the committee again for the invitation. I am looking forward to taking members' questions and listening to their comments.

I thank both ambassadors for their detailed and comprehensive presentations. We will open up the conversation now. Deputy Howlin will be followed by Deputy Brady.

I thank both ambassadors for their presentations and, more especially, their assistance during our visit. Of the many visits I have made over my parliamentary career, it was one of the most impactive. The members who travelled talked privately before this meeting. All of us took some time when we came home to reflect on the volume of issues with which we were presented. On my behalf and, I am sure, on behalf of everyone else involved, I thank all those we met, both in Romania and Moldova, for their absolute openness. There was an extremely open, frank and inclusive discussion on all of the realities and all of us came back with a sense of professionalism and generosity in meeting an unprecedented crisis. That view is expressed in our report which will be published imminently. I hope the ambassadors will convey to their Governments and, more especially, the peoples of both their nations our awe and admiration for the way in which they have gone about meeting this unprecedented crisis. We came back determined to redouble our efforts in explaining the depth of the crisis, which is unprecedented in modern European history, but also to see how we can assist matters.

I will deal with a number of specific points. I do not know if we have an update on the 500 refugees Ireland has undertaken to accept from Moldova and whether they have arrived here. That was one of the issues we said we would follow up on as soon as we came back. Perhaps the ambassador, H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet, has an update. If not, I suggest we make direct contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs to find out what is happening in that respect.

The second issue, one we were all mindful of, is that while there is substantial international support mediated through international organisations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, there is a dearth of direct support to the Governments of Moldova and Romania, particularly the former, to meet the pressures. We had an extraordinary meeting with the Moldovan health minister, Dr. Nemerenco, who described in great detail the pressures on the health system as it was opened up to the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who are now in Moldova. In the context of the country's population and capacity, the pressure is enormous. We need to give direct support to deal with that. The ambassador referred to the education system and other state systems. Direct government-to-government financial support is needed in addition to the support provided through international organisations.

As members will be aware, the issues we were mindful of are that the conflict may migrate towards Odessa, that Odessa, a large modern city, may be attacked and that the consequences of mass migration from Odessa through Palanka into Moldova would overwhelm Moldova, bluntly, if it arrived at a scale of 100,000 people per day. Romania is already planning to support Moldova to ease the pressure there but we all need to be part of that easing of pressure because should that happen - please God, it will not - it would be a human catastrophe. As we have seen, rockets landed in Odessa last weekend. When we were in Palanka, a 30-minute drive from Odessa, that possibility was made abundantly clear to us. The stated ambition of creating a Russian corridor through to Transnistria in Moldova, which was at the edges of our fears, is now a potential reality to which we need to be alert.

All of us understood the scale of the support Romania was providing but we were taken aback by the professionalism and organisation we saw, particularly in Suceava. At the Siret crossing point, we were concerned about a range of issues, including the security of migrants coming across and the potential for exploitation. The organised and professional security cordon that ensured nobody could enter the Siret region without proper identification, etc., was hugely impressive.

On the issue of supports, I was struck by the useful initiative of the UNHCR in providing Ukrainians coming into Moldova or Romania, once registered, a card with $100 per person per month. This approach has a variety of positives. It gives the individuals concerned independence and protects their dignity, which is extremely important, but it also helps the local community by providing spending power within it. That is vital. Is that model working and is it extensive enough? How can we support it?

My final question is on practical steps we need to take. It struck us as odd that there are so many direct connections between Ireland and Romania and none to Moldova. Is a direct air link to Chiinu in the pipeline or is there anything the committee could usefully do in relation to that? Creating markets would also be practical. We had the great pleasure of sampling a great variety of Moldovan produce - food, drink, etc. - when we were there, which would certainly have a market here. Maybe we could seek to assist with that as well. Those are my opening thoughts.

I thank the Deputy. We will start with H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan followed by H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet. We can have a good, positive engagement and if we can keep the answers fairly short, we will accommodate more speakers. Many members wish to contribute.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

I thank the Deputy so much. I was impressed by the fact that the committee decided to visit Romania and Moldova. As I told the Deputy at our previous meeting, the focus in regard to the particular issue of humanitarian assistance should be on Moldova. Romania is supporting and partnering with Moldova. We are careful, which is the reason Romania, along with Germany and France, decided to initiate the Moldova support platform. That is the urgent need and it is an issue I said a few words about in my introduction.

The second issue is the European perspective. Everybody knows this is a long road but the European perspective should be clear. Romania and other European countries, including, I am sure, Ireland, will support that and convince other European countries that are much more sceptical that we - Romania, Ireland and other European countries - should be together with the Republic of Moldova and Georgia. Let us not forget about Georgia, one of the first countries to be affected by Russian aggression. It is the role of the embassies of our countries to maintain momentum and keep attention on the region - Ukraine, of course, and the Republic of Moldova but also Georgia - as high as possible. Let us not forget about Georgia. It may not be affected by the humanitarian crisis to the same extent as Romania, Poland and the Republic of Moldova, but it is important.

I spoke with my colleagues in Bucharest and Suceava who praised the fact that members of the committee were there on the field. It is not easy. People are keen to stay in their offices to watch and comment but I am here to praise the fact that the committee decided to visit and witness the hardship of the people in Moldova and the complexity of the processes.

As we discussed last time, Romania has put in place a complex mechanism to assist. There are six groups in the chancellery of the Prime Minister dealing with children, elderly people, housing, schooling and students. All the sensitive human issues are covered and the six working groups are co-ordinated by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister travelled to Kyiv yesterday. The Ukraine foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was in Bucharest. We are in close co-ordination with Ukrainian officials to see what is needed in terms of practical assistance to carry on the war and also refugees. We have started to discuss the future. We should talk more about the future and be optimistic while providing the necessary assistance, both for the people in Ukraine and those who travel to safety from Ukraine to other countries.

I do not have specifics on the UNHCR mechanism. I know the Romanian Government is looking to the Romanian people who are hosting. There was a recent decision to increase the allocation for food and rent to people who decide to host. It is to encourage Romanians who host Ukrainians to carry on doing so because at some point they may become a burden. We should carry on with the hospitality but resources are necessary. My Government is looking into that.

I will stop there and I can come back later. I thank members for the opportunity to praise the committee and its work.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I agree with Dr. tefan's sentiments about this committee, which so quickly responded to the meeting we held here. In just a few days, I heard that the Chairman and members decided quickly to visit Moldova, Palanca and many other places. They now know what they talking about, having seen the reality. I was personally touched but the visit was appreciated by the entire country. We have just started our parliamentary connections. The committee delegation was probably the first group of parliamentarians to visit Moldova so that was also very important and touching.

Deputy Howlin was correct about developments in Odessa. Yesterday a bridge connecting the south of Ukraine, near Odessa, with Moldova was destroyed. Therefore, Palanca, which the delegation visited, is now the only crossing point for people from Odessa if they need to flee to Moldova. It is very narrow and has not been adjusted for thousands of people. We are trying to manage the situation today but also to evaluate what might happen. We pray it will not be needed.

Cash enrolment is probably the most useful and appreciated assistance in the country. I will give some information to compare with the kind of help given by Ireland. It is very different. We give 2,000 leu monthly, which is €100, to refugees. To people who are hosting refugees, we provide 3,500 leu, more than €150, which is not very much. Previously, people helped out without any kind of cash support.

I am very grateful that Deputy Howlin raised the issue of markets. We are working very closely to open new markets for our products. Some Moldovan products are already available in Ireland. We are looking to enhance that. That is my job but because of the Covid pandemic, I was not able to do much in this area. I am sure that with the support of this committee and other committees that are more focused on commerce, I will be able to do further work on that issue.

I thank the ambassadors. I commend Romania and Moldova on the hospitality shown to me and my colleagues on our recent visit and the expertise, openness and honesty shown by all the organisations, individuals and politicians we met. We had very frank conversations. It is a visit that will stay in my heart forever. It is one thing to watch the news and see the horror unfolding in Europe but it is a completely different experience to see a mother and her two or three children come across the border at Palanca or Siret carrying a plastic bag and crying her eyes out, not knowing where she was going or what the future holds, when she may go home or whether she will see her husband ever again. That is something that will stay with me forever.

I had another very striking engagement in the refugee centre in Chiinu when I met a woman who, I think, had two children. She had spoken to her husband the previous evening. He is on the front line in Ukraine defending his country. She had not heard from him since. As she was speaking to him, missiles were falling around him. It was very real and horrific. I can only imagine the trauma those people are experiencing. I commend the hospitality that both countries have shown to the refugees who are fleeing for their lives with only a few valued possessions.

We engaged with many organisations in Romania and Moldova. As Deputy Howlin said, the openness from everyone we met was striking. I will deal with the two countries separately. Moldova is a country that has very little in the way of finance and is extremely poor but it was very apparent that the warmth and generosity shown to the refugees have been striking. Over 425,000 people have crossed into Moldova, of whom about 100,000 have decided to stay there given its proximity to Odessa and the southern part of Ukraine, which, unfortunately, is coming under more and more pressure. As the ambassador said, the bridge that was struck yesterday just below Palanca was struck again this morning to ensure it was completely destroyed.

In recent days we have also seen potential false flag operations in Transnistria. I refer to the destruction of two telecommunication towers. There were reports this morning that there was an attack or attempted attack on the largest weapons depot in Europe, which holds more than 20,000 tonnes of Soviet air ammunition. There are reports that there may have been an attack on it this morning. To my mind, these are all potentially false flag operations because Russia has stated that to try to stabilise the situation in Transnistria, it may not stand idly by. To my mind, that means there is potential for Russia to open up that land connection from Mariupol right across through Odessa and into Transnistria. The concerns that generates are significant.

I was struck by a genuine and simple request from all those we met in Moldova in respect of the need for hard cash. It is striking that in her opening statement H.E. Mrs. Miculet welcomed the €1 million that has come from Ireland in humanitarian assistance. That is a drop in the ocean. I think it was Senator Doherty who stated in our engagement in Moldova that the amount is actually an embarrassment. I agree that it is an embarrassment. In the context of dealing with the poorest country in Europe, for €1 million to be given in humanitarian assistance is pitiful and an embarrassment. I repeat my calls in that regard. I think all representatives of the committee were speaking in unison on this issue while we were in Moldova, stating that this needs to be addressed immediately. There needs to be a substantial amount of money from Ireland and the EU to Moldova to help with the humanitarian crisis and the fantastic response that has been made. That monetary assistance needs to be forthcoming.

Some of the NGOs we met, including Plan International, expressed concerns in respect of vulnerable people, including unaccompanied minors, crossing the borders and the potential for trafficking. That concern was expressed by some of the organisations there. Unfortunately, it is a reality. It is happening. There have been reports of it taking place. This issue needs to be addressed, given the volume of refugees coming over the border. The organisations stated that proper vetting of people dropping off goods or collecting refugees at border points needs to be put in place in order to ensure the potential for trafficking is completely eliminated. The organisations stated that there is massive goodwill coming from Ireland and right across Europe but their appeal to members of the public who wish or need to do something is for them not to go directly to border crossing points because that adds complications in terms of trying to avoid the potential for trafficking or the picking up of unaccompanied minors by people who should not be there. Trafficking is a threat. It is a matter that needs to be considered and stricter and more rigid procedures must be put in place.

As regards the 500 refugees Ireland has agreed to take in, I will follow up on the point made by Deputy Howlin. It was a concern while we were in Moldova that although the announcement that Ireland will take in 500 refugees is welcome, it seemed to come from nowhere. The figure was not based on anything in particular. Have those 500 refugees now landed in Ireland? It was a concern when we were in Moldova that the announcement was made but there was no movement on it. H.E. Mrs. Miculet may be able to update the committee in that regard. I am also concerned that her request to meet the Minister for Justice has not been responded to. This may be a matter on which the committee can follow up. Given everything we have stated and seen in the context of the crisis that is unfolding and the additional pressures on Moldova, that request should be acted upon immediately. The committee needs to follow up on that because it is concerning that the request has not been responded to, let alone the meeting granted.

As regards Romania, its openness, honesty, expertise and commitment to deal with the situation are second to none. Everyone we met was so open and excellent. We visited a refugee centre in Bucharest. There is a fantastic operation in place there. The level of volunteers not just in Moldova but also in Romania was stark. There were schoolchildren going straight to the refugee centres at the end of their school day in order to help out. It was striking. A matter that struck me in the context of our engagements in Romania was the significant costs. We were told it had cost between €500 million and €600 million up to that point. I am sure that figure has been exceeded at this stage. Like in the case of Moldova, very little assistance, if any, has been forthcoming from the EU. Indeed, we were told there were no additional funds or money coming from the EU and that Romania had been told it had to use up its existing cohesion funding before a request for funding could be considered. That is really concerning. Billions of euro are being pumped into providing weapons for Ukraine, and those weapons are needed, obviously, but we do not see a parallel level of funding going to help deal with the humanitarian crisis that, unfortunately, is evolving as a result of the war. That seriously needs to be looked at because more than 777,000 refugees have crossed over into Romania to date. I refer to the additional infrastructure in terms of road services and everything that will be needed to cater for that massive increase in population. Existing cohesion funding is now being sidetracked to deal with the crisis. This is a serious issue that needs to be immediately addressed by the EU. That will be borne out in our report.

This morning, we saw that Russia cut off the gas supply to Poland and Bulgaria. In Moldova, it was striking how dependent the country is on that gas for the production of electricity. We were told the gas supply is being provided free to Transnistria but the bill had been passed on to Moldova. Are there serious concerns now that the gas supply to Moldova may be cut? It was striking that Moldova is very dependent on that supply. Is Dr. tefan concerned that the supply to Romania may be cut off? What contingencies have been put in place? How dependent is Romania on that supply?

This has been a very useful engagement. I have probably left a lot out in terms of my questions. It will probably take me a while to analyse it. I am still analysing some of our engagement but it was a very useful trip and there are many things that will stick with me. I know I have related a couple of stories already.

There was another young man in Moldova as well, who was 17 and just missed the military age in Ukraine. He and his mam managed to bring their dog with them. He was sitting on a bus heading to Spain. They barely had a word of English, let alone a word of Spanish. They did not know where they were going or what the future held for them. It is very striking when we hear figures, statistics and of horrors and we should remember we are dealing with real humans whose lives have been turned upside down. We do not know what the future holds for them. There is a massive humanitarian crisis in the region that this horrific war has generated. The response from the international community, including the EU and Ireland, is lacking to say the least. It must be addressed.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I thank the Deputy first for his initiative in going to Moldova. I saw a picture of the day as he watched the address of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in the car he described. I thank him for the words of solidarity he expressed to us and appreciation. He described precisely the situation in Moldova, including the emotions people are feeling, as well as our needs. I thank him for that.

We welcome any food or assistance from Ireland or other countries. There are different mechanisms, as I said. One is the platform for Moldova that was initiated recently. The EU mechanism is still active for Moldova to receive assistance. There was a question regarding the mechanism for relocation. Unfortunately, I am not aware of the matter. I assume nobody has been relocated or otherwise I would see it noted in the papers I constantly receive from the ministry. I assume it is because of the holidays and a reply indicates the letter was received. I will probably have a meeting. I understand the ministry for justice is working very hard on the Irish mechanism for refugee flows. I am optimistic and quite sure we will manage with the committee's help to discuss the topic.

On the question of Transnistria, it is a very tense and complex situation right now. It is probably the most important development that is now followed by everyone and not just Moldova. It is followed by all our partners, the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, mission in Moldova. Just after those incidents, the OSCE mission called for everybody in general not to take any actions to undermine the trust and work that has been achieved up to now in the management of this conflict. Yesterday the Moldovan President called a supreme security council meeting. After that, Moldovan President Maia Sandu held a briefing, stating that all appropriate state agencies are on alert. They were also given additional tasks, including to be more vigilant, investigate and take all measures needed from our side. At the same time the President called on our people to stay calm and not to use false sources of information. That is very important in such situations.

Our President also stated we are looking to use existing mechanisms, including the 5+2 format etc., to settle the conflict. This means we are still looking to diplomatic and political solutions for the region. We do not control the Transnistrian region but they are our citizens and it is our territory. We are concerned and working with partners to approach these incidents that are seeking to destabilise in the best possible way.

I reiterate my words of appreciation and gratitude to the Romanian authorities, as has been mentioned. There is a connection and we are working together in providing support. This support, by the way, is not just in the area of managing the flow of refugees. Romania is working hand in hand with us in the European accession process, which is already at the level of parliaments. There was a meeting and they expressed an intention and a readiness to help us in this process at the parliamentary level. The Chairman asked in a separate letter what we will need in the process towards further European integration. I replied by saying now it is a question of deep assessment and we are completing those questionnaires. There will be an assessment and we will need help at the level of parliaments and other authorities in future steps. I will bring that to the committee's attention in time.

The Deputy also asked about the energy resilience of my country. It is one of the major topics we are working on. There was and still is an energy crisis in my country and the members may have discussed this with authorities. Prices of gas have risen to a level but probably not every European country pays that price. We have only one source of gas, which makes us very vulnerable.

There are steps being taken to diversify. Romania is on one side stocking some gas for us and the European Union announced that if there is a purchase of gas for European countries, Moldova would be included in the mechanism. On the electricity side, I am also pleased to say our electricity system was connected to the European system just recently. That helps us a lot.

At this moment, the European Union perspective for us is the cornerstone of everything. It is why we repeat our plea for support and for a European perspective. We will do our homework and it will be for the benefit of the entire European region. That is probably what Ireland expects from us.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

I was touched by Deputy Brady's stories of his trip to Romania and the Republic of Moldova, and how it affected his view of the region. I hope we can work together in future and he will travel there in more normal and peaceful times to see what else we can do for our countries and the region.

I will be brief and try to address the two questions.

The Romanian Government is keeping track of the expenses, so I have the figures. A sum of €70 million has been spent on refugees. Romania has provided €100 million to the Republic of Moldova to assist our neighbours in handling this humanitarian crisis. We know that the European Union is doing its best. It may do more, of course. There are all these pressures - the members know that better than I do - on spending, military support and refugees in Poland and other countries, so there are huge challenges. I tend to see the positive side of the story in that the European Union acted in a united way. Of course, it may not have taken some decisions with the speed needed, but it is on the right track. With everybody here, and with our leaders pushing and co-ordinating at the European level, we can do more - that is for sure. The fact that we are interacting here today is a clear sign of unity and of our joint concern for countries such as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia. There is a lot of work ahead, but I think we are ready.

As for energy security, Romania has been a strong voice in the European Union in looking at this issue for at least ten years. Nobody paid attention. We know from some facts that Germany, which is a very important country, did not pay too much attention to those concerns and now Europe is paying the cost because a number of European leaders admit they cannot simply cut commercial ties with Russia. That is highly problematic. I will not get into that discussion, but we are reaching that red line now with Poland and Bulgaria being cut off from Russian gas. We have been concerned about the issue for some time and looked into it years ago, not necessarily on the brink of the war, with the Republic of Moldova. As H.E. Mrs. Miculet said, we now have the gas connection and there is a gas pipeline, so we will be able to help the Republic of Moldova as much as we can. The good thing is that we are not as reliant on Russian gas as other European countries are. Romania has natural resources, so we are looking at other alternative resources. That has been a major policy concern for Romania. I am not saying we have addressed it properly, but the attention was there and we moved closely to reduce the dependency as much as we could. Of course, there is debate in Romania as to "What will happen if?". I think Romania is better prepared than other countries and we can help our neighbours if necessary. It is to be hoped, however, that the committee and the leaders of this country will push that onto the European agenda to warn other countries, or the big countries, that we should move ahead from oil and gas from Russia and look elsewhere. I know the United States is providing assistance and gas. Let us see how we can handle this critical issue together.

I will take Senator Doherty first, followed by Deputy Duffy. I know the latter has indicated but I want to take members who went to Moldova and Romania first.

I will not be long because a lot of the points that have been raised about our visit have been articulated by my two colleagues. There is nothing surer than seeing something for real, for yourself, to raise the temperature of the emotions you feel. Deputy Brady has expressed in a lovely way the impact that meeting the children and the refugees personally and listening to their stories has had on how we feel. I will not speak for my colleagues, but not happy is how we feel, or definitely how I feel.

Both ambassadors are incredibly gracious and diplomatic and would not be in the jobs they are in if they were not, but that is tinged, from my perspective, with a lot of anger, not just at our own response in helping neighbouring European countries on the front line but also at the European Union and, to my mind, its complete lack of financial support for the countries neighbouring Ukraine. It is an absolute insult for the European Union to tell member states to use their cohesion funding that is desperately needed for the reasons the Cohesion Fund is there in the first place in place of giving real financial support for refugees, particularly along the countries bordering Ukraine.

The reality for me and the takeaway from the visit is not only how beautiful the part of the world the ambassadors come from and live in is, and it definitely requires return visits in normal times, but also the generosity of the people in their part of the world, more so from Moldova than Romania, who have so little but who are giving so much. It puts me to shame and causes me embarrassment that I find myself in a country that has taken in 25,000 refugees and we are already telling the country that we are creaking at the seams. Moldova has 91,000 refugees and a smaller population that has the generosity to put refugees in their own homes. They do not have to have special rooms, special buses or the nonsense we go on with in this country. I applaud the ambassadors' respectfulness in the response they have given to the statement we made nearly a month ago that we would take an extra 500 refugees with special needs from Moldova. From my latest inquiries with the Department of Justice yesterday, I understand we are still tinkering around the edges of trying to find somewhere to put them, while the people and citizens of Moldova and Romania have them staying in their sheds and have not grumbled about the fact that they will look after them. We are still tinkering around the edges as to where we will find to put them. The committee should praise the humanitarian responses of the peoples of both Romania and Moldova, and indeed probably Bulgaria and Poland, countries which we have not even got to speak to or see yet.

What we should do next is bring in the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Justice and Housing, Local Government and Heritage and meet with the European Commission to find out exactly what the hell is going on, and not only with streaming funds to look after the refugees. I am emotionally engaged now at a level at which I certainly was not before my visit. To my mind, this war could have been over if the EU had made decisions a lot sooner. If it actually wanted this war to be over today, it would be over today. The likes of Poland and Bulgaria and the absolutely brave and singular stances they have taken in response to Gazprom are something we should all applaud and ask to be repeated by every other European country.

What probably struck me most, apart from meeting the refugees, the volunteers and the other people who were giving, and probably the most impactful person to me was a lady I met in Romexpo. I think she could have single-handedly organised the response herself she was so effective and such a lovely and honest person.

I do not think we have really decided from a European perspective that this war should be over. The things that need to be done should have already been done. With respect to the visit and the people we met, the next steps we should take are to resolve some of the issues that were presented to us during the tour. Probably the most impactful was the need for cash. As Deputy Brady said, we were accompanied by a gentleman from The Irish Times who reported at an emotional level I do not think I had seen in The Irish Times before that, which was really appreciated. When he asked me one day about the €1 million we were clapping ourselves on the back for having given the Moldovan Government, I thought it was buttons and an embarrassment. We should be doing so much more, whether at a European level or an Irish level. It is an embarrassment that our local Red Cross in Ireland has fundraised €30 million in recent years and the Irish Government is clapping itself on the back for giving the Moldovan Government €1 million. I am sorry. I know the witnesses are being diplomatic, but it is an absolute disgrace. It is definitely something we should take on board. Having now met the ambassadors on the return from our trip, when we release our report this week, the people who can give the answers to the questions we raised while touring Moldova and Romania a number of weeks ago should be around this table, and we should do that sooner rather than later. I commend all the people of Moldova and Romania and all their efforts.

My final comment is to H.E. Dr. tefan. The deputy foreign affairs minister we met the day we were leaving told us that Romania has been banging the table for ten years trying to get the French in particular and the Russians to feel and to hear the message it has given. The deputy minister said that Romania finally felt vindicated that they have woken up and finally seen the threat Russia poses. I contend that they still have not acted on the acknowledgement of that threat. If anybody is dragging their heels on the European Union's response that is needed, it is probably the Germans and French.

The reality should be borne home by the other member states that we can no longer tolerate what is happening and that the decisions we know need to be made must be made now.

I thank the Senator for her intervention. We will now move to more diplomatic channels. Any future role in diplomacy-----

Will not be coming my way.

It is difficult to beat the truth.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

I do not believe there was a specific question.

That was a diplomatic answer.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

I am pleased to be here and to hear the committee's story. Ireland will be friends forever to Romania and Moldova. We can rely on Ireland to work together for our countries and for Europe, which is what this is all about.

The Senator mentioned some large countries in Europe. Countries like Romania, Ireland and others that may not be as influential can work together, push the agenda and change the course of history. My role is to engage with Ireland and build a partnership, which is why I mentioned in my opening remarks that there would be a dialogue between the directorates-general and that our Secretary of State would be coming to Ireland. I hope that the committee will be available on 18 May to celebrate and see where we are and what we can do for our countries and Europe. More is coming. Ireland is realising that it has partners. Europe is our home. It was mentioned that refugees were coming to Ireland via Moldova and Romania. Europe provided us all with a home. We may be located in one room at one level and others may be located in another, but we cross one another more and more in the kitchen, in the hallways and in the garden. We need to do more for our neighbours and inhabitants.

I appreciate members' visit to our countries.

I thank the ambassador. Perhaps the committee will allow me to indulge in committing to that meeting on 18 May. We will make ourselves available. That is it said publicly now.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I also wish to express my gratitude to the committee members for their initiative in joining the group that went to Moldova. I will continue in line with my ambassadorial colleague's comments on our deep willingness. I have worked a great deal on enhancing parliamentary connections. Ireland has such a strong democracy. I have witnessed it and its parliamentary activities for three years. That is why I would love our Members of Parliament to take some of the good experiences from Ireland. I finally managed to have a friendship group from the Irish side. We have always had one on the Moldovan side. Some of this committee's members have already visited my country. The group's list is open, so they can join and we will push together. I am looking forward to our first meeting – it will probably be online – and Irish parliamentarians will continue the discussion that they started in Moldova. In this way, we will come closer together as nations and parliaments. As I have often said in interviews, despite the fact that Moldova is not a rich country, we have found a window of opportunity to have an embassy in Ireland because it is our intention to come closer to this nation. Our diaspora was brave. It came to Ireland first and we came after it. Now, we have that bridge. I am looking forward to working closely with the committee in advancing our bilateral agenda.

I thank the ambassador.

I thank the ambassadors for their briefings, which have been informative so far. Like everyone else, I have been following the invasion and looking at it geographically. Palanca, which my colleagues visited, is close to the sea and not far from the southern tip of Transnistria. In the context of Transnistria, what are Mrs. Miculet's concerns if the invasion continues? Transnistria goes three quarters of the way up the border between Moldova and Ukraine. If a corridor connects southern Transnistria to Odessa, Russia can move both east and west. Will Mrs. Miculet speak about defending in the case of such an eventuality? It would be easy for Russia to move east or west from Transnistria if it becomes connected to Russia.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

Not everything the Deputy has asked about is my area of expertise and competence.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I am expressing the state's position. These incidents in Transnistria did not start just a few days ago. Rather, they started a little earlier. We have had false bomb announcements and alarms. We are following the situation closely and with constant vigilance. When more pronounced incidents like explosions happen, the first to step in was the OSCE, which called on us not to do anything that would undermine trust. I am pleased to say that, probably in a few days' time, a mission formed by OSCE structures will visit Moldova and, within its competence, evaluate the situation. The EU is following that and I have heard that the US Department of State is also following it. Everyone is following it. The Russian Federation made a statement speaking about respecting our independence and sovereignty. We are doing what the state is supposed to do.

We are a neutral country and our defensive power is within those limits. That is why we are trying to stabilise the current situation and call for calm among people in Moldova and Transnistria despite the incidents. We are assessing the situation in general. We are assessing all statements concerning the corridor the Deputy mentioned. The state authorities, including the Supreme Security Council, are probably considering all scenarios, but those considerations are not public at this moment, so I will not elaborate on them. I can only say that the situation as it stands is complex. That is why we need support of any type, including this public meeting of a European committee, to support our independence and neutrality and call for a calm situation in Moldova, including in Transnistria, because Europe needs a stable country there.

Does Dr. tefan want to come in on that or was it more specific to Moldova?

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

Romania has been concerned from the very beginning that the situation in Transnistria may be inflamed and may get worse. There was a public message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to calm down and not to react or start putting the blame on different people. There was a debate and I think the Moldovan President was accused of putting the blame wrongfully. If would be very difficult if something starts. It was mentioned that people from Odessa may flow into Moldova and that would overwhelm the country.

I would not comment on Russian plans, of course. It is very difficult to think Russia will stop or that it would be satisfied with what it has so far. It looks like the Russian agenda is to build this corridor. We have been seriously concerned about this and also in terms of the refugees that Moldova will be the first affected, so we have to be prepared for that as well.

In the context of that corridor, Odessa will be cut off because there is no bridge. If that bridge at Palanca comes down, Odessa is cut off.

While Deputy Ó Murchú was not on the trip, he expressed a strong desire to be on it and has a strong interest in this area. No doubt, given his involvement in the conversations around the future of Europe with Deputy Richmond, he knows that while we have been discussing the fallout of this absolute nightmare, at the same time, we are talking about the future of Europe. Therefore, there is no pressure on Deputy Ó Murchú in terms of presenting on the future.

Yes, the future is secure in my hands. I thank the two ambassadors for coming before us and for their previous contributions. We can see from the report that a significant amount of due diligence was done by the group that travelled. It was a very useful piece of work and this is a follow-up on it. In regard to where the conversation started, it started during the pandemic with regard to the Conference on the Future of Europe and, obviously, we have had not only a humanitarian disaster but it has been an absolute game-changer. The one good thing to come out of a terrible situation is the fact that the world, including Europe, seems a lot closer and we all see the necessity of being able to co-operate with each other from the point of view of getting to a better place. We have to co-operate on the basis of the humanitarian nightmare that these two countries are dealing with. Like other speakers, I commend them on the work they have done and for what is, in real terms, the heavy lifting.

On some level, there is no need for a huge number of questions because the ambassadors have stated what their countries need. In fairness, Dr. tefan said the focus needs to be on Moldova and that there is a need for resources. A number people have stated explicitly that the money that is being offered up, particularly here, does not cut the mustard in any way, shape or form and is not good enough. Mrs. Miculet also went into some detail in regard to the forward planning that Moldova needs to consider.

We had a fair bit of conversation on the worries about what Russia will do, and I get that none of us can necessarily game-play that. I have no doubt there is a huge amount of preparation being made in that regard. One of the points I want to raise relates to an issue raised by Deputy Duffy. Given the worries the two ambassadors are talking about, there have been not only the false flag operations and whatever that might mean with regard to Transnistria, but there is also the attack on the bridge close to Palanca and it was said that that route is cut through. From where the two ambassadors see it, there is going to be an influx of refugees from Odessa which would be very difficult to deal with in regard to how they will travel and so on. What needs to be done? We are hoping we do not have to deal with the nightmare situation but this war has shown we are dealing with one nightmare after another and it makes absolute sense that preparations are made.

As regards the asks, we need to do our best. The two ambassadors have been very straightforward in regard to the meetings that are required and specifically in regard to the money. It would be absolutely wrong if we and the State did not follow up on that. It would be an abject failure from Ireland and the rest of the European Union if we did not do all of those pieces that are necessary.

I get where Senator Doherty is going in regard to the fact there needs to be a ramping up of sanctions to ensure we put the maximum pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime at this point in time.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I thank the Deputy for his concerns. He is absolutely right. All of our state authorities try to work not only on what happens today, but to look ahead and to consider all possible or impossible scenarios because we are realistic in approaching the situation. With regard to our future needs, I was looking at that bridge yesterday on the map and saw that it was also a way to go from that part of Ukraine to Romania and to other parts. If that is cut, they can come only through this narrow Palanca area because on the other side, as the Deputy said, is Transnistria. It is very narrow.

I spoke yesterday with the leadership of my ministry, who have a big role in these activities, and they told me that further relocation is one of our priorities and concerns. We have to take into consideration that more refugees may suddenly, at one moment, come to our country. That is why we must consider relocation.

There are two tracks with regard to developing assistance in Moldova. As I said, one is the immediate need in regard to refugee flow and another is the support platform for Moldova. One is helping Moldova just to survive itself because we still have that impact of the Covid pandemic, followed by the energy crisis, when we were not cut off but our prices were raised to $1,000. On energy resilience, we need help and support. As I said, we are also looking for new markets. All of this is just for the country itself to survive.

This country is taking care of citizens on one hand and dealing with refugees on the other. Both these pillars are very important to us.

There is probably an appropriate place in this second pillar of energy resilience and helping to build stronger capacity for our state agencies. The issue will probably be discussed in more depth in the Moldova support platform of which Ireland is a part. The Department of Foreign Affairs and other agencies that are participating in the platform can probably provide the committee with more concrete information on what was requested through that mechanism. It is not only dealt with bilaterally but via the platform, which we hope will work better in putting all needs together and seeing what our partners can do to work together and respond, strengthening our resilience as a state in general, keeping us stable and aiding us in dealing with the flow of refugees.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

I knew that interest in travelling to Romania and Moldova was high. I was distressed when I heard there was not money for all the members of the committee who really wanted to go. I will petition the leadership of the Oireachtas to provide more money to the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs.

I do not think people would think that was necessarily a great travesty. It might be a hard political sell.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

As politicians, the members know how to sell this and convince their constituents. I thank the committee for keeping an interest even if they were not on the trip. As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, the committee has a critical role in bringing these issues and stories to the public and officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Departments. Especially after their trip, the members sense what is needed there and the lack of funds in countries that may be affected even more seriously. Russia is unpredictable and we should expect the worst. Let us prepare for the worst and let us see.

I know Ireland is militarily neutral but I appreciate that it is not neutral when it comes to values and our approach. Romanians and Moldovans really appreciate the fact that from the very first moment, Ireland's position was clear and its engagement on the right side of history was clear-cut. Now we have to find ways together in bilateral terms, which is our offering here today, and also at European level, to find out how to move the European Union project along together and how to advance it in countries like Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, when the time is right, of course. It is a thorny process. We must also find out how to protect ourselves from dangers in the future. It had me scared a little bit when Russia announced the exercises in the waters off this island three months ago. Bad things may happen to all countries regardless of their position in Europe. Let us work together to fend off these dangers in the future.

I thank the ambassadors. Before we get to the final word from Senator Vincent P. Martin, Deputy Ó Murchú is going to have a very short intervention with a specific question.

I thank the ambassadors for those answers. What Ambassador Miculet is talking about are particularly detailed asks. Would it be possible for the committee to get a look at them? I am referring to the asks from the support platform. Could we play our part in that respect? Maybe it is not possible.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I said I assume that all these needs and requests for concrete assistance had been sent to the support platform, which is newly established. I will discuss with my Ministry if they are already set up.

The ambassador put it very well. It is a matter of making sure that Moldova survives. For the want of a better term we have had a perfect storm. As regards Russia we talked about energy resilience but this is an energy crisis meeting a geopolitical crisis and climate change. I am sorry to use the term South Ossetia in respect of Georgia. My point is that we wonder why Russia cares about this little strip of land, but it is about the sphere of influence. If we look at the history of hybrid attacks in Estonia or even certain other things that have happened throughout Europe, it is the realisation that it is not only a smaller world but also a more dangerous one. We have all said previously that when we are looking at Mariupol we could be looking at pictures from the Second World War. It could be Dresden. It is as simple as that.

On accession, we could see at the Conference on the Future of Europe that some of the language was very protective. Some of that might relate to the likes of Hungary and fear, with the European Union saying it needs protection, particularly in respect of the rule of law. Some of the earlier language was almost to the effect that Europe needed to get its house in order and be unified before it would facilitate further accession. People saw that this was dreadful language, and that whatever about the western Balkans, it was particularly dreadful in respect of Moldova and Ukraine, and even Georgia and other states that are looking for this at present. I accept that the Copenhagen criteria are what they are and there probably needs to be a greater level of engagement. However, not only the language but probably the politics of that is moving on. We should obviously play a part in that regard. It is going to be a long and difficult journey. Moldova needs to be facilitated but first and foremost it needs to be able to survive. It is absolutely necessary that we play whatever small part we can in furthering those arguments. I commend Romania, Moldova and the other neighbour states that are doing a huge amount of heavy lifting. We need to look at ourselves and where we are falling down.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

I know that from the Irish side, the deputy director general of Irish Aid participated in the support platform when it was set up in Berlin. I can follow up with my colleagues who are putting together a programme of action as is usual with aid works, and I may be able to give the Deputy more details.

On accession I agree that it is not an easy decision. We are realistic. However, there is a new environment in terms of security and in general in the world and especially in Europe. Now we need new political approaches, definitely. Decisions will probably be taken that will differ from what was the case before 24 February. The Joint Committee on European Union Affairs has such a crucial role in Ireland's voice as regards giving us candidate status.

I kindly ask the committee to consider it very carefully to help us to survive and to do our best in the future to become a fully fledged member of the EU. We do not ask for shortcuts. We just ask people to realise how critical the European perspective is for us. It is a long process and we will go through it as required, without shortcuts. We do not ask for them.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

The Minister for Foreign Affairs may have more information. In the last couple of days, the embassies of Romania, Germany and France had a joint démarche to find details and specifics of humanitarian aid, the funds and how to proceed with the 500 refugees. They are looking into these issues as we speak.

It would be good if we could follow up on that. I would like to think the Minister for Foreign Affairs would have more information than me. We might seek a meeting with him.

H.E. Dr. Laureniu-Mihai tefan

The three embassies are putting pressure on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to look into the details and provide the specifics.

I will make a statement rather than ask any further questions as the ground has been covered very well by my fellow committee members who have encapsulated the concerns. It is absolutely heart-wrenching.

The accession journey is arduous and difficult but in my humble opinion, prior to the invasion is was rudderless and going nowhere in a hurry. There is some momentum building. It is important that we all, the diplomatic corps and public representatives, push to try to make the most of this opportunity to tangibly push this issue further despite the strict criteria.

I thank both of our guests for their excellent presentations. My experience of this committee is that its members are deeply committed. The ambassadors appreciate that we understand. There is some great knowledge and experience in this room and we have to do all we can to maximise and channel our energy and endeavours in the direction in which they want us to travel.

H.E. Mrs. Larisa Miculet

Senator Martin's contribution was short but optimistic. I thank him very much. I reiterate that my country's approach is that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia must be given the European perspective together. If all those countries were to have the European perspective together, it would mobilise the entire region.

I thank the ambassadors and members. This was a very important meeting. There will also be an important public element to it when we publish the report on our findings and what we have learned. We are very grateful. I thank both ambassadors for being with us today. Our knowledge of Romania and Moldova has increased no end, including places such as Chiinu, Palanca, Iai and up as far as Siret. This has given deeper meaning to the relationship between Moldova and Romania but also, within the European Union context, the importance of solidarity and the words that were used today.

I thank the members for their engagement this morning. We will continue these discussions. Follow-up is key. One point that we picked up in various meetings with politicians in Moldova and Romania was that they were talking about the future. Yes, there was an acknowledgement of the present difficulties and challenges but they were talking about the future. There was a considerable degree of hope in those deliberations around rebuilding and working together more closely, irrespective of geographical distances. One thing I learned at a personal level was that we have a lot more in common that we have differences. We will continue to work with H.E. Mrs. Miculet on EU involvement and the different signals and suggestions from politicians around bridging the gaps, which are certainly not insurmountable. We look forward to meeting the politicians when they come here, and with Mrs. Miculet and Mr. Zurabashvili. We will keep a close eye on the Ukrainian application as well. The suggestion to bring the Minister for Foreign Affairs before the committee would be a good next step.

I suggest that we go into private session and decide what we will do next week. There are a few specifics which we need to nail down now.

We can go into private session shortly. That is no problem. Ní neart go cur le chéile; there is no strength without unity. We look forward to strengthening this partnership and we will work together more closely. The men, women and children of Ukraine are very much in focus at the moment. We are happy to do anything we can to learn. We are grateful to the Romanian and Moldovan Governments for their suggestions about what we can do. There is no magic formula here. This is wartime. We are dealing with a refugee crisis in developed countries which is not the norm. Even NGOs are having to reposition in order to help. We will remain vigilant and stay in touch.

The joint committee went into private session at 11.48 a.m. and adjourned at 11.56 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 May 2022.