I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House. I know he has been working very hard on this issue along with our European colleagues and other world leaders. I thank him for being here.
Situation in Ukraine: Statements
I have just come from the Dáil, where we have agreed a motion expressing our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. I understand that the Seanad will also shortly consider a motion on the issue and I wholeheartedly support its efforts in doing so. I know that party leaders have been talking about how they might do that this evening or tomorrow. It is right that both Houses of the Oireachtas are engaged on this vital issue. I hope we will have all-party support on a motion that we worked hard to write with that in mind. We have used UN language that is clear and deliberately does not go into great detail to try to ensure we have a clear, positive and firm message coming from all parts of this Oireachtas and from all parties.
In the early morning of Thursday last week we saw a large-scale assault by Russian forces on Ukraine. Through its decision to launch an invasion, and by violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the Russian Federation has brought war back to European soil for the first time in many decades. The message from Ireland and the EU in response has been one of clear and unwavering support for the people of Ukraine and for Ukraine as a sovereign country. Ireland is a militarily neutral nation but we are certainly not neutral, and I hope never will be, in terms of political neutrality on the bombardment of innocent civilians, laying siege to cities and the unprovoked military assault on a sovereign nation that is looking for peace.
We have been very clear in demanding that Russia withdraw its forces immediately from Ukraine's territory. I am greatly concerned by reports of the deployment of cluster munitions in Ukraine's second largest city in the past 24 hours and also of missile strikes directly from the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The Ukrainian Government is facing extraordinary challenges, as indeed are ordinary people across Ukraine. It is important that we are clear that the EU will not abandon Ukraine as it struggles for survival against Russian aggression.
I have never seen the EU as united as it has been in response to this crisis and I have been around in politics for a while. We have put in place extensive measures with major financial consequences for Russia. The EU has essentially agreed three significant sanctions packages in four to five days, which is an extraordinary pace of movement given how complex EU institutions are and how they normally arrive at decisions. We have closed EU airspace to Russian aircraft, we have frozen the assets of the Russian Central Bank in the EU and have added many more individuals to the sanctions list. I think approximately 500 individuals are now on that list. We are excluding key Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, SWIFT, system; sanctioning more oligarchs on top of the more than 100 already listed; sanctioning Belarus for its role and support of these war efforts; and banning Russian media outlets that disseminate disinformation across the EU.
The EU has also shown strong and active support for Ukraine's efforts to defend itself. Two days ago, along with our EU colleagues, we agreed a package of €500 million in military assistance for the Ukrainian military through the European Peace Facility, EPF. Ireland will pay our full share in those efforts and our proportion will be approximately €10 million. The allocation key for the EPF means that Ireland will pay approximately 1.9% of total expenditure on any project. There is now a commitment to spend €500 million, which means we will end up spending between €9 million and €10 million in those efforts. The money that we spend will go exclusively towards the provision of non-lethal support such as helmets, bulletproof vests, medical equipment, fuel and other equipment that has been requested from the Ukrainian side.
In response to the humanitarian crisis, we have removed all visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens seeking to enter Ireland. I suspect that many thousands will make the choice to do so. Ireland has also led the response at UN level, ensuring that an urgent session of the UN General Assembly was convened after the Russian Federation used its veto at the Security Council to prevent a strong resolution being passed. It is important to say that the Russian Federation was the only country to vote against that resolution. A small number of countries decided to abstain but Russia was on its own, isolated in the Security Council, while in the chair and using its veto to protect its own interests. We hope and expect that a majority of the members of the UN General Assembly will support a clear and robust resolution to condemn this outright violation of the UN Charter, which is exactly what this is. We are pushing today at the Security Council for the adoption of a resolution calling for safe and unhindered humanitarian access for all. I hope we will be able to find agreement on this resolution, even with Russia.
On the sensitive consular issues relating to this crisis, officials are in ongoing contact with the remaining Irish citizens in Kyiv and across Ukraine. The number fluctuates daily but my information today is that it stands at just under 80. We are in constant contact with families regarding surrogacy arrangements in Ukraine. A number of parents have been and continue to be in very difficult circumstances. We are working through those cases with them to try to find a way of uniting parents with newborn children through surrogate mothers. This is not easy in a war zone.
I take this opportunity to underline that the deep concerns that I have outlined about the actions of the Russian leadership does not diminish the friendship and respect we have for ordinary Russian citizens, including those who have built a future in Ireland and many of whom have protested bravely against this invasion across Russia and the world.
I say directly to Russian citizens in Ireland: we do not hold you responsible for the decisions of the Kremlin and your Government. No Irish person should single out a Russian, a Russian family or a Russian child in Ireland and blame them for what is happening in terms of the devastating consequences of war in Ukraine. Any Russians I have been in contact with are appalled by what is happening and the decisions being made by their leadership.
There can be no justification for threatening to use nuclear weapons. I have called on Russian to immediately revoke the order to place nuclear weapons on high-alert status and I urge maximum restraint and de-escalation. Many countries join us in those calls.
I wish to underline that enormous damage and destruction has been done. The loss of human life is truly shocking. In some ways, this is the first war to be literally played out live on social media. When one sees charred bodies of civilians on streets in civilian residential areas who were targeted by cluster munitions or other lethal weaponry, one realises that Europe is being reminded of the horrors of war on the back of the decisions Russia has made. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, estimates that approximately 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries - mostly in the EU - such as Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, the four countries bordering Ukraine, and Moldova. They have been put under extraordinary pressure as a result of what is happening. However, we can expect many more. Poland alone has, in the past 24 hours, seen more than 100,000 Ukrainians flow across its border. The estimates of 1 million or more Ukrainians fleeing conflict in Ukraine will certainly happen and I believe it will go well beyond that number. Ensuring that we play our part in responding to the human response that is necessary for that number of people, I expect it will mean that many Ukrainians will come to Ireland. We need to find a way to ensure they will be welcomed and looked after here in respect of their dignity and plight.
There is still time for Russia to choose a path of reason, restraint and diplomacy. What has happened will not be forgotten - that is for sure - and we need to ensure people are held to account for the atrocities that have happened over the past four to five days. I was glad that the International Criminal Court, ICC, has formally opened a file on potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. We will support the ICC fully in its work, as we always do, as a global entity that ensures, in wartime situations, we continue to fight against impunity and breaches of international humanitarian law. What has happened will not be forgotten, but we can still work towards peace and resolution, which should be everybody's focus. It must be our goal, ultimately, to bring this conflict to an end as soon as possible through intensive diplomacy and intense pressure from the EU with partners from around the world, through sanctions and the further isolation of Russia so that the message is very clear. A continuation of this war will have dire consequences for Russia as well as the country it has, unfortunately, chosen to attack.
I thank Senators for this opportunity. Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the entire debate, but I will try to stay for as long as I can.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply.
I welcome the Minister. His handling of this situation is exactly how the Irish people would want it to be done on all fronts. There are three words that come to mind as I think about this - medieval, barbaric and tsarist. We are back to the worst of tsarist Russia. Innocence is suffering. I saw a news headline on my phone that stated 350 civilians have died in Ukraine, including 14 children. The 64 km long convoy of tanks approaching Kyiv this morning was quite shocking. The suggestion that the people of Kyiv should flee their city is awful.
We should salute the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people and, indeed, we should salute the peace movement in Russian and those soldiers who are reluctant to kill their own kith and kin, which effectively is what the Ukrainian people are. Without being flippant or trivial in comparison, it is the equivalent of the Irish Army being asked to go to one of our islands and attack the people on it. These are their own people and it is a shocking state of affairs. I agree with the Minister in that it is very important the message goes out to Russian people. I know some of them, as we all do, who are living here and they are in no way implicated in this in our eyes.
The cluster munitions, the missile strikes, the suggestion of nuclear war and the intensified bombardment with rockets descending on Kharkiv are a horror. That begs the question of what we do. First, we work in solidarity with the EU in regard to all sanctions as outlined earlier. It is very important that we in Ireland miss no oligarchs in the process, and that we are seen to do our bit and do it well. It is very important that we receive the refugees heartily and properly. It is important that we support the moves to bring Ukraine into the EU, and I would also suggest Georgia, because the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are in the EU, but Georgia is exposed. Some 22% of Georgia is occupied by the Russians at present and the Georgians are vulnerable people. Although a Georgian application to join the EU has not been lodged yet, we should support it when it is. We should support the candidacy of Ukraine as well. Any signal such as that, which supports the people in their hour of great need, is something we should give.
Sanctions will hurt our people, but we have to be prepared for that. We cannot expect an abstract concept of sanctions and yet be in favour of sanctions. When they hurt our pockets and our incomes, as inevitably they must if they are properly done, we will have to measure up to and accept that. Equally, if it puts pressure on our villages and towns to receive refugees from Ukraine, we will have to accept that. There is no room for an ambiguous approach. We are either committed to international law, proper practices and a peaceful outcome or we are not. The way in which we can do that is support the sanctions unambiguously and when the sanctions hurt us to accept that it is an inevitability, unless they are ineffectual. We must also be ready to embrace the refugees. We cannot have meetings about Ukrainian refugees such as the despicable meetings that took place in this country when refugees came to towns. Towns, villages and communities across the country will have to be willing to make that effort. We are very fortunate people in that this is the only contact we will have with the war. Our troubles in that regard fade into insignificance compared to those of the people huddled in basements across Kyiv and Kharkiv. People are suffering, including the refugees on the Polish border. We are very removed from it here and if there is any way for us to do something about it, we should.
It is important that this debate takes place. It is also important that we pass an unambiguous and unanimous motion in this Chamber, and in the Dáil. In a bicameral Parliament, it is crucial that this be the case.
It is also crucial that speech after speech we are unambiguous in our willingness to accept refugees, and suffer the consequences of the sanctions and really implement them.
Ireland and its Governments have basked in the mistaken belief that as a small island nation no one would ever want to hurt us, with the mantra of how we box above our weight and our marvellous reputation as peacekeepers from a neutral state allowing us to take the high moral ground on the international stage. Countless Ministers over the years have spoken of our neutrality. Indeed, some have referred to Ireland's neutrality and our military non-alignment in the same sentence, not realising that these two positions are polar opposites. What does this say about the advice Ministers are given? Perhaps the Minister of State might clear up which we are. As Mr. Justice Kearns put it in 2003, despite the great heroic value attached by Ireland to the concept of neutrality, the status of our neutrality is nowhere to be found in Bunreacht na hÉireann or in any domestic legislation. Are we neutral or are we militarily non-aligned?
Due to Government policy down through the years the average citizen has been indifferent to defence and the Defence Forces, trusting Government to look after such matters. It took a crisis in Ukraine and a decision by the Russian navy to carry out an exercise off the south-west coast of Ireland within our exclusive economic zone, EEZ, to bring into sharp focus the appalling state of our Defence Forces and our defence capability. Shamefully, countless Governments have presided over the disinvestment in the Defence Forces and have brought us to our current sad state. We have a Naval Service with ships costing taxpayers millions of euro yet almost half the fleet is tied up due to lack of crew, lack of investment in people and lousy working conditions. We have no idea what is operating beneath the sea for we have no sonar. Our neutrality is laughable when we are allowing a NATO country to protect our skies with its RAF fighter jets. Just as we have no idea what lies beneath the sea, we have no primary radar to see what flies above us. Neutral or otherwise, as a nation we are in a very sorry state.
The Minister set up the Commission on the Defence Forces, which has now reported. Following the publication of the report, he stated it would take four to five months to analyse the recommendations fully. Compare this to the swift action of the German Government. Five days ago the chief of the German Army vented his frustration over what he saw as a long-running neglect of military readiness in his country in an unusual public rant a few hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, adding that his army was in bad shape. Three days later, the German Government committed €100 billion to fund its armed services and ramped up its defence spending to 2% of its gross domestic product. Why does the Government need four to five months to consider what to do following the report of the commission? Spending in Ireland on defence is 0.2% of GDP. As a nation we are rapidly becoming defenceless and must by now be a laughing stock in Europe.
Ukraine's president pleaded with the European Union today. He said, "Prove that you are with us" in an impassioned speech that received a standing ovation from the Members of the European Parliament. How has Ireland shown that it is with Ukraine? Our response has been strange, to say the least. At the European Parliament, two of Ireland's MEPs voted against a resolution condemning Russia's aggression towards Ukraine, although 637 of their colleagues supported the resolution. Where the truly neutral states of Finland and Sweden are prepared to provide weapons to assist Ukrainians defend themselves, Ireland is providing medical supplies, body armour, fuel and other non-lethal materials to the Ukraine military to aid in the defence against Russia. Indeed, one MEP suggested that the petrol provided should not be used in tanks.
People are dying on the streets of Ukraine. Civilians are standing in front of tanks and armoured cars, using their bodies to stop them moving forward into their cities. Men, women and children are being murdered. Ukraine must be able to defend itself. We have military hardware we can donate. For God's sake, send what we have. We have a few dozen Javelin missiles, automatic self-guidance missiles. We have 84 mm unguided, man-held anti-tank weapons. The Minister must work with EU partners in every sense. We must be prepared to provide ammunition and so on. When it comes to the Russian embassy and expulsions from it, we must be at one with Europe. We are not neutral; we are not sure what we are. That is a question for another day. In the words of Desmond Tutu, if we are neutral in situations of injustice we have chosen the side of the oppressor. Have we chosen the side of Russia?
Let us be very clear in response to the question Senator Craughwell has raised. This country has not chosen the side of Russia but is very much on the side of the Ukrainian people. We stand in solidarity with them. We also stand in solidarity, as the Minister of State said, with the ordinary people of Russia and Belarus. This is not their fight. In calling out Russia, we also need to call out the tyrant Lukashenko, whose regime has lasted for far too long. The Minister was correct in his remarks.
The people we need to think about more than anybody else are ordinary Ukrainians. People are dying again tonight as a result of war crimes being perpetrated by a thug, Vladimir Putin. The question is: how can we help? I am very proud of the Government's approach in many ways. We immediately lifted the visa requirements to allow for families to be reunited. We have to send out a message, as Senator Joe O'Reilly said, to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, our fellow Europeans, that they are more than welcome to come to Ireland. We also need to consider what other supports apart from immediate humanitarian support will be needed when the Ukrainians come here, such as translation services and helping people to get to work because many people will want to work and contribute to the country. We need to start to plan for how we can do that. Then hopefully when Ukraine does defeat the Russian aggressor, we will be able to support those Ukrainians who wish to return to their homeland. I am proud of the stance the Taoiseach, Government and Minister for Foreign Affairs have taken at European level. This is the EU acting at its best. At a moment of crisis, it has responded. Two weeks ago, I do not think anybody would have expected the strength of the stance that was taken. Indeed, we need to go further.
There are other questions we need to address. We can be certain that we are going to experience far more cyberattacks. If not state-sponsored, they will certainly be state-condoned. That means we need a debate in this country on cybersecurity. We have to remember that the largest ever attack on a health service anywhere in the world last year came from Russia. I am not saying that it was sponsored but this kind of activity was condoned. A small number of cyberattacks are being perpetuated around the world and they tend to be from a small number of states. We need to take action at global and European levels. That requires us to co-operate through the PESCO arrangements on cybersecurity.
We will need to address food and energy security. A quarter of the world's grain comes from Russia and Ukraine and this will have implications. We do not import a lot from that region but there will be global implications. Much of the grain, barley and corn from that region goes to the Middle East, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt. People will be aware that problems around food security can further destabilise regions. We have to be willing to take part in that discussion. We are not a neutral country; we are a non-aligned country. We have always had a very proud independent foreign policy. We should look at co-operating with our fellow non-aligned members of the EU, that is, Finland, Sweden and Austria.
We should look at their approach on a number of issues including through PESCO and in other areas relating to global security issues.
This is a real test of Ireland's and the European Union's foreign policy. So far, we have adopted the correct approach but at a global level we are now seeing a battle between democracy and autocracy. We need to make the choice on which side we stand. Overwhelmingly the view of the Irish people and in these Houses is on the side of democracy. Unfortunately, as we saw in the European Parliament again this evening, we have a small minority of politicians in this country who are nothing more than soft puppets for the Putin regime. They have supported and echoed the speaking notes of every authoritarian regime. They are anti-European Union and anti-United States. While that is fine and it is their prerogative, to continue to support dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko and Maduro in Venezuela is not acceptable.
Hear, hear. Well said.
We need to call out those members of the fifth column who are trying to operate within Irish politics. They have been getting away with it for far too long. They do not represent the Irish people. They are an embarrassment to the people of Ireland and they need to be called out.
Today marks independence day for Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the reprehensible ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, Professor Brendan Simms described Ireland's performance and response at that time as squalid. Our reasoning for doing little or nothing was we would not be seen to level the killing fields. Doing little or nothing was justified by a predecessor of the Minister's in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Thus, the Bosnians were isolated. They had to defend themselves and their country. That conflict in the 1990s should have taught us the massive price of prevarication, inactivity and doing too little too late. Defending democracy is not for free. As the armoured tanks edge closer to Kyiv this evening, the EU must respond as best we can as a united community, unlike at the time of the horrors in Sarajevo. We must not be found wanting again. Let us support the cripplingly deep sanctions and be honest with people that they will cost us, but at least it will not cost the lives of men, women and children.
We must stop our dependence on fossil fuels. We must become energy secure. For the past century we have seen greed-driven wars being raged over the control of fossil fuels with innocent victims suffering by being deprived of fossil fuels as a result of war. Renewables are a force of peace. Spending money on fossil fuels destroys our world, including biodiversity. Spending money on Russian fossil fuels is akin to contributing money to buying Russian tanks.
The strength of our language in condemning the atrocious barbaric acts of Russia must be acknowledged and never taken for granted or belittled. However, words are not enough. In a biblical phrase, words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach. However, it is not satisfaction that people want and it is not words. Actions speak louder than words. I take some solace from the EU acting together. There must be a day of reckoning for dictators such as Lukashenko and Putin. They must be held accountable and hunted down. Ukraine applied to the International Criminal Court to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine. On 28 February, the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, decided to open an investigation. People should face all the rigours of the law and be held to account. We must go further.
I am heartened by the contributions tonight and how we have made the differentiation that this is not the war of the decent Russian and Belarusian people. The Russian people in Ireland that I know are mortified, hurt, upset and embarrassed by the actions of a dictator. In the meantime, what is the reality? If the politburo does not remove Putin, we must do our best to call on the Russian people to put their lives in harm's way with a mass mobilisation of people. If that does not happen, we need to look at humanitarian aid like never before.
Before the invasion, I mentioned in the Chamber my concerns that Ireland was not supporting Ukraine in seeking EU membership. I brought that up informally with Department of Foreign Affairs officials. I still have not got an answer. It took an invasion for us to move on that. It did not take an invasion for Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania soon to join them. That is called practical solidarity. Why was Ireland not one of those signatories in the declaration of the perspective to support Ukraine. The Ukrainians really wanted support. I have spoken to the Ukrainian ambassador on a number of occasions. That would have been practical support. Why did it not happen sooner? We are not on our own and other big states are conspicuous by their absence. People feel it is because certain member states feared provoking the lovely President Putin. We must do more. I commend Poland. The EU should not face paralysis by always having to act together. One country can go ahead and still be in unison. Poland did not wait for FIFA or UEFA to say it would not play that team. Pope Francis and the Holy See took an amazing position by expressing concern over the war in Ukraine. It was an extraordinary papal gesture that has no recent precedent.
I am sure the Cathaoirleach will agree with me that RTÉ's Tony Connelly, Bram Verbeke and now Paul Cunningham and Owen Corcoran are putting themselves in harm's way to let us know what is happening in those countries. They deserve enormous thanks on behalf of the Irish people, as does President Zelenskyy, who is a modern-day Lech Walesa bringing his people together. We stand with him shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity.
The Minister of State is welcome. The images coming from Ukraine that we see on our television screens are heartbreaking, especially the distressing scenes of women, children and elderly people fleeing Ukraine. We can only imagine the many emotions Ukrainian people are going through right now. As I said earlier today, it is surreal to be witnessing what is day six of a war in Europe. All of us who value freedom, sovereignty and the right of self-determination of free peoples can only look on in horror at the actions of the Russian Government and its leader in embarking on the type of invasion that we have not seen in Europe for decades.
Of course, we have seen such acts of aggression around the world in modern times, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend our solidarity to the Ukrainian people at this desperate time. Ireland, more than most countries, understands the impact of occupation. We know the importance of sovereignty and the right to self-determination. We also understand the importance and difficulty in finding peace.
All of us are united in our condemnation of the actions of the Russian President. No country and its people should be subject to the kind of military aggression that is bringing death and destruction to Ukraine. What is critical now is that the international community, through diplomacy, brings about a peaceful resolution to stop this war. The way out of this, as with any conflict, is through politics and dialogue. As a militarily neutral state, Ireland has played an important role in peacekeeping and in the battle against nuclear proliferation. Now, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, we must do whatever we can to stop this war and ensure the right of Ukraine to a peaceful future as a sovereign independent state.
We must also use our role on the UN Security Council to bring about a speedy resolution to stop the war. Ireland must be a voice for peace, justice and freedom. We support the strongest possible sanctions against Russia as part of the diplomatic effort to stop this war.
The EU is not a military alliance. Its strength is its promotion of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and peace. That is what we focus on, not further militarisation.
We support the decision by the Government to abstain on the EU using its money to pay for weapons for Ukraine. We support the decision of the Government to contribute via the purchase of protective equipment. What the Ukrainian situation is showing us is the need to focus on diplomacy, peacebuilding and the promotion of democracy, key values that we must not forget in the current situation. No one involved in this conflict should stand on a narrow ground of principles. Ceasefires should be immediately called and negotiations must begin to resolve the issues that lie at the heart of this conflict. There is a way out of this. I believe that, as with any conflict, the way out is through politics and dialogue.
In the meantime, we must also step up our support for those displaced by this conflict. Ireland must play a full part in accommodating our fair share of refugees as part of a comprehensive EU response. I, like others, also want to acknowledge that there are many in Russia who do not want this war. We send to them our solidarity as they protest the unjust actions of their leaders. This war must end speedily and Ukraine's borders must be respected and recognised.
The images from Ukraine are quite shocking. I never thought we would be in a position where one neighbour would invade another's territorial borders in a modern Europe in 2022 in the way we have seen happen in Ukraine. As I said on the Order of Business the other day, there is a view that it appears to be the greatest act of aggression since the Second World War; it is not. It is worth remembering that in the 1990s we saw the breakdown of Yugoslavia and 100,000 of our fellow European citizens and other people on the border slaughtered. We also saw 8,000 people, primarily men, slaughtered in Srebrenica while UN peacekeepers stood aside. This is not as shocking an anomaly as it seems.
We also saw Russian aggression, including foreign policy aggression, in an intervention in Syria in 2015 to the extent that it turned the war around for Bashar al-Assad. Russian foreign policy aggression is happening not just in Europe but elsewhere, something that has been very evident to a lot of people over the past couple of years. We have seen the rise of Serb nationalism once again, backed by the Russians. Russia has made the argument for the annexation of Crimea and Donbas but, at the same time Kosovo, one of the youngest countries in the world, has not been recognised. That is the context we are in. This is not to engage in whataboutery, but the current situation is a consequence of Russian aggression that has been building up over the past number of years. It is worth putting that in that context.
The unlawful and wholly unwarranted invasion of a sovereign nation by the Russian Federation demands an unprecedented international response. We are at long last seeing significant financial sanctions being imposed by the EU on Russia. I agree that we also need a co-ordinated European response from other countries regarding expelling Russian ambassadors. That should not just be done in an Irish context; it needs to be done on a co-ordinated basis.
Ireland must show, even in its neutral stance, that we believe in a strong international law and human rights-led approach to these issues. We must show that we are willing to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine. I very much welcome the statement from the Minister for Justice that she will waive visas for people coming from Ukraine or Ukrainian nationals, but we need to go further. People are fleeing and have refugee status, but are not necessarily Ukrainian nationals. They are living in Ukraine and suffering the consequences of this war but they are being stopped and turned away at borders. We need to extend the measures for Ukrainians to anyone living in Ukraine.
We also need to make sure that we are accepting national ID cards. Many people do not have, or have not been able to access, passports but in Ukraine people are used to using national ID cards. We need to bring them along.
The Minister knows that the Government has been working particularly hard with people who have arranged international surrogacy in Ukraine, but I have been quite distressed to read some of the newspaper reports over the past number of days that did not mention the women in Ukraine who have given birth to those children or those who are pregnant or are having transfers in the middle of a war. Ireland needs to have an arrangement whereby someone who has arranged surrogacy with an Irish family can be flown to Ireland and have medical bills guaranteed, maternal healthcare and living expenses over here. We need to go further.
The Ukrainian currency is worthless at the borders where people are fleeing. People are on the borders of Moldova, Romania, Poland and Hungary. We need to make sure that we are shoring up the Ukrainian currency so that people who are leaving with cash in their pockets can use that money at the borders. We can do many things to help and stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine that require very little effort from us. We will be taking part in international efforts, but we need to welcome people from Ukraine to this country, and not just waive visas but go much further.
I welcome this debate. We will have this debate for a number of weeks and months and, if places like Syria are anything to go by, we will be having this debate for years to come. We need to make sure that the eyes of the world are not just on Ukraine over the couple of weeks but over the next couple of years because ignoring Russian foreign policy aggression over the past ten to 15 years has gotten us to where we are today.
Mention was made of which side people are on. Ireland, very clearly and correctly, is on the side of international law, humanity and peace. That is our record, and where we come in and add value in situations such as this. It is entirely consistent with that position that we express, directly and clearly, our solidarity with Ukraine, as Ireland has rightly done and as we will with a motion in the House tomorrow when we express solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the struggle they are facing.
We must condemn, resolutely and completely, Russian actions because they are in breach of international human rights law and the UN Charter. That charter, founded coming out of World War II with the goal of peace, specifically the very first line which states, "[T]o save succeeding generations from the scourge of war ... armed force should not be used, save in the common interest".
When we talk about the choices we have, this is a key battle. It is not solely about Russia and Ukraine. It is also about whether we have an international politics of principles or move back to that imperial version of politics that is clearly part of the philosophy and agenda promoted by Vladimir Putin, namely military might decides everything. We had centuries of that.
I note with caution those who say this is simply about military might versus military might. We need to fight not in terms of the principle of condemning an occupation and military invasion, but also pushing back, with every international multilateral instrument of diplomacy that we have, including sanctions and other pressures, to say that we believe in the international rule of law and those instruments. In battling, we are battling for how Europe and the UN does things. That is why measures such as prosecutions in the ICC are going to be important.
That is why diplomatic tools are so important. We have had these discussions previously and it is a little frustrating because we have talked about sanctions being a problem in other contexts. I agree with sanctions as a tool of diplomacy, a hard tool of diplomacy that must be used. It is appropriate that sanctions are used in this circumstance.
It is also important we push for the humanitarian issues. I do not think it is a small thing to give protective equipment or medical aid. It is a really important, if not vital, thing. It is vital for the signal it sends in terms of what we believe is acceptable with regard to how people are treated and what people suffer. It is an important thing.
When we talk about demilitarisation, I would point out that we have all been shocked to see the cluster munitions that seem to be falling on Ukraine. I was in Croke Park, representing Trócaire as part of the cluster munitions coalition, when Ireland led the negotiations for a ban on cluster munitions. Such munitions used to be commonplace and were used everywhere, but now Russia, as a nation, is flouting international law by using them. The fact is we used our powers of diplomacy to make them unacceptable on a wider scale and that is an example of where Ireland has made a huge difference in the context of saving lives.
To return briefly to the sanctions, it is appropriate we take strong measures. Indeed, I would argue they are measures we should be using in other contexts as well. The SWIFT measure is very important and I support it. It needs to be done. However, we must try to ensure it is done in a way that has maximum impact on the Russian regime while also seeking to protect ordinary Russians. While we have the SWIFT sanctions on banking, we see that the very wealthiest oligarchs get to move their money around through places like the IFSC, as they have been doing and as has been pointed out to the Irish Government for the past year and a half. A total of €34 billion is held by Russia-linked shell companies in the IFSC. The section 110 companies that were debated in these Houses previously must be tackled. In that context, I urge that we do not simply look to the banking system but also to our role and complicity in relation to Russian and Saudi money. Showing we are willing to act on this shows not that we are willing to rattle sabres but to rattle shareholders and stock markets if that is what is required to uphold the principles of international law.
The invasion by Russia of Ukraine's sovereign territory and its attack on the Ukrainian people is an outrageous and immoral breach of the most fundamental and basic principles of international law. Our thoughts are with President Zelenskyy and the innocent people of Ukraine in their most difficult hour and hours to come. It is saddening to watch as the might of Russia closes in on another city. Russia is warning the people to get out. It is blowing up buildings in the middle of the city, killing people. It is just unacceptable.
The UN Charter requires all countries to refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state. To a small country in particular, the use of brute force in pursuit of a warped perception of national interest is a serious affront. It has presented Europe with the most grave security situation it has faced in decades, with repercussions for global security and the world's economy. It cannot and will not go unanswered. I believe that at the end of the day, while a lot of damage will be done, Mr. Putin will fall on his sword.
I am somebody who gives out a lot about social media, but thanks to social media, everybody knows about the brutality that is happening in the world. The world is disgusted at what the Putin regime is putting the people of Ukraine through. We all thought those days had gone. We thought when Gorbachev arrived that Russia had changed. I meet many Russians every year. Many of them run businesses now and have become western people in many respects. They are not going to tolerate this for long. They will rise up against this man and, at the end of the day, they will have a major say in bringing this horrible situation to an end.
This aggression by Russia will cause untold hardship and tragedy for people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government. It is so important that nations like Ireland and all of Europe stand firm, as they are doing now. One has only to look at the bravery of the Ukrainian people, men, women and children. There is also the sad side, like the picture on social media of a little girl in one of the hospitals in Kyiv, drawing at a table in a bunker with lots of other people. The innocence of that little face makes one wonder how many innocent little faces are going to be gone in the next few hours, days or weeks.
I commend the Government on the way it has handled this to date. Ireland is at the forefront of efforts across the UN to bring an end to this conflict and to hold Russia accountable. Humanitarian assistance for those who need it is one of our primary objectives. At the UN Security Council, where Ireland currently has a seat, we are pushing very strongly for a resolution on humanitarian access. Russia’s veto cannot silence condemnation of Russia's actions. Ireland has supported the convening of an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly and will also push for a strong and robust General Assembly resolution. As we all know, the EU has agreed a package of €500 million in military assistance for Ukraine, with €450 million for lethal equipment and €50 million for non-lethal supplies. Ireland did the right thing in abstaining on the lethal equipment package. Of course we will pay our full share but Irish funding will go to non-lethal items.
Ireland is also providing €10 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The next big problem coming down the line is the humanitarian fallout from this conflict. The number of people who will be in difficulty will be enormous. Millions will flee to other countries and we must accept as many Ukrainians as possible into this country. I feel very strongly about that. We must help out and the Irish people will do so. I have my own view on the Russian ambassador and have issued a strong statement saying he should be sent home, for now. That said, I understand what the Minister has said about keeping diplomatic channels open. However, I read in The Irish Times today that there are 32 officials at the Russian embassy here in Dublin and I would send 26 of them packing straight away. It is an extraordinary number of people and any work that is going on in that building should be stopped straight away.
Like many others, I am saddened and shocked. I stand with the Ukrainian people. This is a very sad time for us all and we may be facing very challenging times in the months ahead.
The drums of war are beating across the European continent once again. Death stalks the land once again and things will be totally and utterly different from now on. Things will not be the same as they were just a number of weeks ago. There can be absolutely no legitimate return for Vladimir Putin to the world of political respectability after this is finished. He must be treated as an outcast and he must be confined to the same depths of depravity as the other dictators who haunt our history. An attack on a democratic and sovereign nation is an attack on all of us. It is an attack on everybody who believes in freedom and the democratic right of a nation to set and chart its own course.
Ukraine cannot be left orphaned by the West.
That is why I believe that in the short to medium term, we should be seriously considering and supporting its accession to the EU. We should also be supporting its application to join NATO. I have seen some of the comments about NATO warmongering and aggression. God forbid that small countries on the doorstep of a sleeping Russian giant want to come together and have a bit of shared, joint protection in the face of unwarranted Russian aggression. The events of the last few days have certainly proven that. Indeed, over the course of the last week, Putin has fostered more unity among the democratic nations of the world than in the last 20 years. His legacy on Ukraine will not be the legacy that he determined. His legacy will be a more united and stronger European Union and international community. That is what his legacy will be after his attack on Ukraine. There can be no complacency when it comes to Russia from now on. It has shown its hand. Putin has been backed into a corner, and he is perhaps more dangerous than ever before because he has been backed into such a corner by the international community. I believe the reason that this is happening is because Putin cannot let Ukraine be a success story on his doorstep. He cannot let Ukraine be a democratic success story. The one way he will be toppled in his own country is when the Russian people start to notice that a country like Ukraine is having free democratic elections and ask why Russia cannot do the same. That is why Putin is in Ukraine today. He is there to protect his own political capability in Russia. We, and the world, must stand up to his aggression.
We must be clear that the Irish people and the Irish Government condemn Vladimir Putin. It is not just that. There is a war on democracy. Democracy in countries around the world is failing. Ukraine, as a democracy of 40 million people, is being invaded and attacked. Increasing sanctions have been introduced. I know, through the Minister, that aid has been offered to the Ukrainian people. However, that has not stopped the aggression. We have to be more extreme in the sanctions taken and in locking Russia out of every single aspect of life so it cannot take part. We see it in the world of sport and in other areas. It must be made clear that it is unacceptable for Russia, in its current form as a country, to participate in global politics, in the world and in the economy at large. We must ensure that the countries Russia deals with, such as China, step up strongly to help us with peace talks.
Today, Russia is increasing its bombardment of the towns and cities of Ukraine. We have seen over 600,000 people flee. This is happening in our time. The Second World War is in living memory. Is this what we are going to face and what is going to come across our doorsteps every 80-odd years? What are we going to do for the next generation? What stand are we going to take? I know that we are doing our utmost to support the Ukrainian people. We will be doing more to provide humanitarian aid and to help those who come to our doors looking for assistance. My heart is with the people in Ukraine today.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am aware of his own personal commitment to this issue from the meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly yesterday, and so on. What is happening in Ukraine is quite appalling. However, we must remember that what happened in Georgia in 2005, and in Crimea in 2014, was appalling. Yet, the world stood by and allowed Vladimir Putin to get away with what he did in Crimea. I must ask why we are letting him get away with it now. Yes, we are introducing sanctions, and very punitive sanctions, but if Putin invaded a NATO country, Russia would be invaded back. Ultimately, it does not matter, in my view, whether Ukraine is a member of NATO. It is a democratic country in Europe. Eventually, we are going to have to go in and take Putin on. As dangerous, difficult, challenging and frightening as it is, the world is going to have to take this man on. If he gets away with what he is doing in Ukraine, it will be Romania or some other country next.
Like everybody else, I stand in solidarity with the poor people in Ukraine who are fleeing their homes. I think of the people in Ukraine with disabilities, including adults with disabilities and parents of children of disabilities. We see the pictures on the news of people in railway stations trying to get on trains. Unfortunately, in these cases it is a case of survival of the fittest. We think of what happened in Germany in the 1940s under Hitler and the Nazis. It is the poorest and the most vulnerable, the people with ailments and disabilities, who are left behind. Unfortunately, they are the people who are not mobile, who cannot run and who are not in a position to evacuate themselves and flee. In my view, the world has questions to ask itself. We are at a pivotal time and we must take more decisive action than we are taking currently. Clearly, what is being done at the moment is not working.
I join other Senators in expressing my abhorrence at what is happening in Ukraine. It is obvious to see. I am tremendously proud of Ireland's reaction. I would say we are hamstrung on one level because of our military neutrality and non-alignment. That is actually appropriate. I do not want Ireland to shed its military non-alignment. It is a tremendously important part of our polity. Looking at what Ireland has done to respond to this and the tangible actions taken, for starters, sending a very clear message to people in Ukraine that they are welcome here is an incredibly important gesture. I had many conversations with the Minister for Justice over the weekend about what that means. It has already been mentioned in the debate that people will be able to access Ireland even if they do not have a Ukrainian passport. A driving licence will suffice. These are important and tangible measures that show the depth of feeling in this country for the people of Ukraine.
I have the privilege of being counsel before the International Criminal Court, ICC. I particularly want to acknowledge the steps taken by Karim Khan as prosecutor of the ICC, which made a very clear statement of the ICC's intentions in terms of Russia and Belarus. I am aware that the Minister mentioned it in the course of his remarks. I praise the Lithuanian Prime Minister for taking the step of making a complaint to the ICC so that it can begin an investigation. There should be nowhere to hide for Putin and his allies, and Lukashenko and his cronies. They must have nowhere to go when the violence ceases - and it will cease, eventually. The question is how many people are going to die before that happens. How many communities and lives will be destroyed before that happens? Whatever happens, those people who are involved in it must understand that there will be nowhere for them to hide when it comes to an end.
The question of where Ireland stands was asked already in the course of this debate. To my mind, there is absolutely no doubt about it. I am astonished by how some people have used this crisis as a political point-scoring opportunity. One Senator made a speech today that was used really to needle at the Minister of Defence about defence spending, which has nothing to do with this debate. The Senator asked if Ireland is on Russia's side. That is an extraordinary comment. Last week, I took part in a radio debate against a Deputy from another party, People Before Profit, which one academic has renamed "Putin Before People". The Deputy essentially blamed the situation on NATO. I am not an apologist for NATO, but this is the fault of nobody but Vladimir Putin. It is about his greed and his avarice for power and domination. That is what is at the heart of the matter. No blame should be apportioned to the Ukrainian people or any other group.
I am very proud of the steps Ireland has taken so far. I wish the Minister well in the enormous work that comes from now, particularly in relation to our role on the UN Security Council. I commend the Minister on his work to date. Let us keep up the good work.
I call the leader of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, Senator O'Loughlin.
I thank Leas-Chathaoirleach for giving me my full title. I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for being here to listen to our concerns. We are talking about two men here. Putin is a bully, a thug and a warmonger. At the other extreme is President Zelenskyy, who spoke so movingly to the European Parliament today.
He made it very clear in a heart-rending speech that today will be many people's last day on this Earth in their homeland and country. That is a very true and striking statement that cuts to the heart of this. He has demonstrated incredible leadership to his people and bonded people like never before. We can clearly see people trying to escape from their homeland but we saw equally heartbreaking scenes from Dublin Airport as young Ukrainian men leave our country, where they found a safe haven, to go back and fight for their homeland.
We have been witnessing the scenes in Ukraine unfolding on our television screens, newspapers and our phones and they are absolutely heartbreaking. There is no doubt we cannot stand by idly and, to be fair, we have not. Everything that can be done has been done to build bridges with Russia and it is clear diplomatic actions have absolutely failed. That is very regrettable. The actions by Putin and his tyrannical cronies must be called out for what they are, which are breaches of international law. If this morning's reports of the cluster bombing are accurate - I have no doubt they are - there is absolutely no doubt that war crimes are being committed. We all thought the days of war and warmongering were behind us.
I agree with previous speakers' comments about our precious neutrality, which is important to us. We are at the heart of one of the world's most successful peace organisations in the European Union and as a nation and people, we know the strife of conflict. We know the results and heartbreak caused for generations afterwards. We have experience of conflict on our island and we want and need to see every measure being taken to support peace and the rule of law. There is no doubt that Europe will be fundamentally weakened if we do not stand up for our core beliefs in democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We must be definite and definitive in our actions.
Last Friday, on behalf of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, we had a very long meeting with our ambassadors on the question of suspending Russia's membership of the Council of Europe. It was unanimously voted through. I am really proud to see my colleague, Mr. Billy Kelleher, MEP, taking such a strong stance in the European Parliament, calling out the Russians and supporting Ukraine. I am proud of the response of our Government in waiving visa requirements and offering Ukrainian people refuge in our country.
I have had a number of conversations with different people on different sides of this. Today, I met Mr. Anton Krasun, a Ukrainian man who has lived happily here with his wife for over 12 years. His family was caught in the crossfire, and his 73-year-old father and his mother had to flee, mainly by foot, to Poland. We are thankful they arrived here safely on Sunday.
I met Olyesya on Monday when I had a special afternoon just for the Ukrainian community in Newbridge to see how we could help them. Olyesya's mother does not want to leave her country, which I understand, and her twin sister was torn between leaving her mother and husband and bringing her two children here. I am thankful that they have a flight booked for Thursday to come here and stay with their family.
I had conversations with Zenya, a member of parliament in Ukraine, who has sent me videos from the bunkers where she is. Her husband is away fighting and she has not seen him in six days but she knows he is okay.
I think of a conversation with Vladimir, a Russian member of the opposition. I met him in Strasbourg in late January, when he told me his wife and children had to move to America because they were not safe. His life was also in danger. I have reached out to him several times over the past week but I have not had any contact; I hope he is okay because I am very concerned about the good Russian people who are against this invasion.
I welcome the application by President Zelenskyy for immediate membership of the European Union and fully support it in that regard. We must stand in unison and shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine. We must offer every protection available under international law to the country and President Zelenskyy.
I understand Senator Ahearn is sharing time with Senator Lombard. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I have been listening to debates in this Chamber for over a year and a half and I have heard some strange comments in that time but I struggle to think of a more daft comment than what I have heard from one Senator tonight. I do not know if the Minister was here when it was said. The question was put as to whether Ireland is on Russia's side. These sorts of comments are infuriating when we are trying to have a conversation about supporting and protecting a vulnerable country. In fairness to Senator Higgins, she put it very well when she said Ireland is on the side of humanity. That is what the European Union is doing and it is why decisions were made today at Cabinet, such as the waiving of the requirement for visas for people from Ukraine. This effectively means we are treating these people as if they are EU citizens, which is really important. It demonstrates what Ireland wants to do.
I have two questions that the Minister may be able to answer. We are to allow Ukrainian citizens into Ireland and treat them almost like EU citizens. They will be able to work for up to a year and possibly three years. If Ukrainian citizens are already here and their visas are terminating, under normal circumstances they might have to go back to Ukraine, so do the new provisions apply to them as well?
It does, of course. Nobody is going back to Ukraine.
Yes. If Ukrainian citizens who are also Irish citizens want to leave Ukraine but are male and aged between 18 and 60, how does the Irish State deal with that?
I listened today to Ms Adi Roche, who is from Clonmel and an expert in matters relating to Chernobyl in Ukraine. She said Ireland will never leave people behind when it comes to humanity and protecting people. I commend the Minister and the European Union on the work they are doing with this.
I welcome and acknowledge the Minister's statement earlier this evening in the Chamber. It was a very powerful statement of the way we are going with this unfortunate crisis that we have experienced in the past six days. It is hard to imagine that six days ago this war was inflicted on the Ukrainian people. In many ways we are watching this war from Ireland on social media and our access to such media has made very obvious the pain that the Ukrainian people are experiencing.
Last Monday I met a delegation in my office in Bandon of perhaps eight or nine people from Ukraine. There are over 200 people in Bandon from Ukraine, and they work in the many factories we have there. There is a great fear among them. Some of them are going home to fight and some have Ukrainian nationals coming to them on Friday afternoon through Dublin Airport. These people were deeply concerned about passports, visas and social welfare and this afternoon's announcement from the Cabinet is really helpful in that respect. In many ways it has answered the questions put to me on behalf of the Ukrainian people in the Bandon area about how they will survive and operate over the next couple of years. It is a really important and brave step from the Irish Government.
We have also seen a really positive and brave step from the European Union in the past six days in particular and the strength demonstrated by the Union is unique. It must be recognised that the sanctions it has brought to bear on Russia are something we thought the European Union would not have the power to do. It has proven us wrong and it brought forward a line of monetary and airspace sanctions, along with other initiatives that have really helped the cause and put out the message that we are really behind the Ukrainian people.
This is literally our war. We are all involved in one way or another. I have seen myself that there are Ukrainians living in every parish in this country. There is a connection to all of us. We need to support them. I compliment the people who are raising money and gathering food to help the Ukrainian people. That is happening everywhere today. That is a sign of what the Irish people view as their mandate to help the Ukrainian people in their hour of need.
Today, we have seen a major step forward at Cabinet, which we hope will help Ukrainians on the ground, but the longer-term issue is how to deal with a dictator in Russia. The Minister and other Members of the European Council have to work on ensuring we have an answer to that question.
I welcome the Minister to the House, and recognise and thank him for the leadership he has shown on this particular issue on behalf of the Government and the people. Many striking issues arise from this outrageous act of barbarism perpetrated by an evil thug. One of the most striking is that we did not really see it coming. Notwithstanding the best available intelligence, the international community felt that it was a bluff. That outcome was designed and delivered through the way in which information was provided through various different sources by the Russian Federation. It was about presenting the idea that it was strengthening its army, training and doing various manoeuvres while it clearly had a strategy and plan all of the time. It is really disturbing that it did this before our wide-open eyes. However, it has happened and we now have to react.
I recognise the role the Government played in working behind the scenes to make the package of sanctions really effective. The work the Minister and the Taoiseach have done in recent days has not gone unnoticed at European level. As others have said, the sanctions are biting. When we consider the extent to which the rouble has been devalued and the efforts the Russian Federation is deploying at a financial and economic level to try to shore up its currency, it can be that it is fighting a rearguard action that I suspect it did not expect. The removal of some key banks from the SWIFT system has been really effective. We have to keep that up and go much further.
The Minister has rightly identified a way of addressing our military non-alignment. However, there is a debate to be had on that, although it is one for another day. I know that debate is opening up from listening to Joe Duffy. I happened to be in the car both yesterday and today when that debate was ongoing. There are people who quite frankly cannot understand our position of being non-aligned militarily. We need to have that debate as a people at another time. That purpose would probably be best served by a citizens' assembly, or some other format, in due course.
For now, it is about doing everything we can. We are leading the way at European level on that. The Minister has talked about the purchase of helmets, blankets and various other elements to fuel the machine that is driving the resistance. All of that is good stuff. However, we have to move to the humanitarian aspect. I acknowledge that the Government, through the Minister's Department and the Department of Justice, is working on a programme to work with the refugees when they come. The Minister will get a lot of support from Irish people on that. I was at Shannon Airport late on Sunday night to meet a family who have contacts in the region and who were coming from Poland. I have seen the reaction of people on the ground. They want to help. While I was waiting for my speaking slot, I received a text from a woman saying that she is not going to stand by. She has a room in her house and wants to take in a family. There is a lot of goodwill and I hope the Government, through the NGOs or some other means, will be able to harness that enthusiasm and desire to help.
Many different communities are taking up collections at the moment. However, it is worth pointing out that the relief agencies and NGOs are saying that what they want is money rather than equipment. I know people are really trying to make an effort and have the best will in the world but, with money, the necessary goods can be purchased rapidly on the ground rather than having to truck equipment from Ireland to the front line. The Minister will know better than most that there is a humanitarian crisis along the borders of the countries that are most affected as refugees come across from Ukraine. We have to play our role in providing the appropriate funding in that regard.
All the words of condemnation of Putin are for naught; it is now about action. I have every faith in the Minister, his Department, the Minister for Justice and the Government in general to put in place a package of measures that will be embracing and in tune with where the Irish people are at. They want us to do everything we can to ease the suffering of these people. The Minister rightly identified in reply to another Senator that many of these people will not be going home anytime soon. Sadly, many of the women and children who will come here will not have a home to go back to. The sad reality is that their sons, husbands and partners will not be there when they go back. As they leave to cross the border, it is most likely the last time they will see many of them. That is the striking reality. The Irish State cannot be in this for the short haul and I know we will not. The Irish people will want us to make these people a home in Ireland, where they will become valued members of our community. We have to work with education partners, social partners and everybody else to make them as welcome as possible. There is never a happy ending to war. Sadly, as we see mothers and children coming through, we know there will unfortunately be no happy ending for them.
I apologise to Senators for having had to leave for approximately half an hour during this debate. I assure them it was for a good reason relating to some of our consular interests in Ukraine. We are trying to work with families involved in very complex surrogacy cases in Kyiv at the moment and to put in place arrangements for them, which is very challenging in these circumstances.
I will respond to a number of issues. I was not here for the contribution that some Members have spoken about but, to make it clear for anybody who has not been listening to what we have been saying for the past week or so, Ireland is on the side of Ukraine and we are unapologetic about that.
We are on the side of international law, the UN Charter, peace, European values, democracy, the rule of law and European solidarity with other countries around the world in the face of horrific Russian aggression. That is what we are on the side of. If people choose to try to undermine that message or not to work with us in sending a clear message to people in Ukraine who are literally fighting for their survival and the future of their families and country, that is up to them, but I have been very clear on this issue. This is not an issue of neutrality. Ireland is militarily non-aligned and have been for many years. However, neutrality in Ireland means that Ireland chooses when to intervene in conflicts to bring about peace and stability and we choose to intervene in this conflict now. It is a one-side conflict for which one side bears all responsibility. I am sick of hearing people trying to create equivalence with other conflicts in other parts of the world or trying to find some excuse that somehow blunts the message and suggests that this is somehow all because of NATO expansion and legitimate Russian security interests. That does not stand up to scrutiny. If the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are asked why they joined NATO, they will tell say that they did not do so because they wanted offensive capacity or to threaten Russia. They joined NATO because they wanted defence and security for their own countries because they feared Russia from the east. NATO is primarily a defence pact in Europe. There is an idea that NATO has somehow been strategically creeping east to challenge or undermine Russian security but that is not what NATO is about.
NATO is about defensive capacity. Understandably, because of their history with Russia, people fear the kind of brutality we are seeing in Ukraine right now. It is something I never thought I would see again on the Continent of Europe in my lifetime. A global military superpower is effectively trying to brutalise a neighbour into submission for whatever twisted reason it is using as a justification. There is a legitimate debate that Russia needs to be part of Europe's security as a continent, which is a different issue. That is not what this is about. This is about Russia trying to forcibly inflict its will on a country that is looking away from Russia, towards a different way of life that is based upon what we enjoy in the European Union. It is far from perfect, but it is based on democracy, free speech and a value system that allows people to live the lives they want to live. That is what the vast majority of Ukraine's population wants. We have seen that in recent elections. Russia wants to prevent Ukraine from accessing and developing that way of life.
We need to be clear with our messaging. We need to be part of a united effort to isolate Russia on this path and to continue to offer a channel of communication and diplomacy, as a way of ending this madness and looking to resolve legitimate concerns through politics and diplomacy. It is not easy, but it is a hell of a lot better than what we are seeing at the moment. In the meantime, we have an obligation to do everything we can to help the Ukrainian people to defend themselves, their country and their families. That is what we are doing in the context of the European peace facility, about which I know there have been many questions. In case there is any misunderstanding, Ireland is making its full contribution to that, as is France, Germany and every other country in the European Union. We are making our financial contribution to the element of the package that is non-lethal. It is equally legitimate and important to provide helmets, flak jackets, fuel, medical supplies and all of the other supplies that the 16- and 17-year-old young men who are being sent to the front to face oncoming tanks can use to make themselves just a little safer.
The sanctions package is about trying to impress on Russia as a country that we cannot accept and live with what Russia has decided to do. Until it changes course, we will isolate it and make life as difficult as we possibly can for a country that we would much rather have a completely different relationship with. It has decided the terms and Europe is responding in a way that has shown a level of determination and resolve that many people questioned the European Union was capable of showing. I have been in politics for 23 or 24 years, as have others in this House, and I have never seen the European Union in this mode before. Germany turned its foreign policy on its head overnight. We see countries across the European Union that have different histories and relationships with Russia coming together to unite behind a focused message and a strong package of sanctions, which will get stronger in the next few days. In four days, we have had three sanctions packages from the European Union and we will probably have a fourth package to add to it to continue to send clear, strong, firm messages.
Unfortunately, it appears the Kremlin only listens to powerful, forceful messages. It sees everything else as weakness. Chancellor Scholz made genuine attempts to reach out and find alternative solutions through diplomacy and compromise. President Macron reached out. Even yesterday, President Macron had a conversation with President Putin, trying to find alternatives to war. Europe will continue to reach out, both through back channels and direct conversations, to try to bring an end to this madness.
In the meantime, there is a country that desperately needs our help and it will get it. We will see a humanitarian challenge unfold, of a scale which Europe has not seen in a very long time. The conservative estimates are that we will see about 1 million Ukrainians cross the border if the conflict ends relatively soon. The UN suggests that the figure could be as high as 4 million. I was asked today what that means for Ireland and I gave an honest answer. I said that we are trying to share the burden across the European Union and to ensure every country plays its part. Ireland will not be found wanting. The allocation key for Ireland is normally 1.92%, so if there are 1 million refugees, 20,000 people would come to Ireland. Approximately 4,000 Ukrainians have taken up Irish citizenship over the last 15 years or so. Another 2,500 or 3,000 Ukrainian citizens are in Ireland, living, working, studying and so on. They will want to bring their extended families, connections and so on here. We are looking at significant numbers. The Ministers for Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputies McEntee and O'Gorman, respectively, are looking at ways to do that with the generosity that is needed.
Do not be under any illusions. There is huge uncertainty here. There are no norms with a war of this scale. We will have to change our approach, be more flexible, act quicker, allocate money that was not budgeted for and play our part in this war in Europe where Ireland is not neutral and is not going to be neutral. Our focus will be on humanitarian response and responding to the questions of impunity regarding breaches of humanitarian and international law. That is why we will be so forceful in our support of the International Criminal Court and other mechanisms that can hold to account the people who are responsible for the war crimes that are being committed.
These are extraordinary days. History is unfolding. Europe is changing. In my view, this will change Europe permanently with regard to political relationships, strategic security alliances and the way that Russia is perceived by the European Union and how we respond to it in the future. We will have a debate in this country as we move past this, which we hopefully will, about what implications it has for Irish foreign policy. For now, let us be as helpful as we possibly can be to a country that is on its knees and fighting for its survival. Let us be generous. People around the country are asking how they can help. Adi Roche put it well today when she said we should financially support credible international organisations that already have a footprint and mechanisms to get products in and out of Ukraine and to support people. Those include organisations such as the International Red Cross and other UN organisations and NGOs that have the capacity to do that. Even though people are very well-meaning, what is not needed is thousands of small packages arriving in Poland to be managed by who knows.
For now this is about supporting organisations that we know can get the assistance to where it is needed quickly. Believe me there will be a lot to do for the Ukrainians who chose to come to Ireland to make sure they feel safe and welcome here in the days, weeks and months ahead.
I thank Senators for the opportunity to speak to the House. I am sorry I missed some of the contributions but I suspect we will be having many more of these debates in the days and weeks ahead. If Members have issues they wish to raise with me they should feel free to do so directly. This should not be a party political issue. The decision by People Before Profit to introduce an amendment to a motion we put before the Dáil this evening is just really unfortunate. It is completely unnecessary. I deliberately insisted on a motion that was not controversial in terms of any of the political issues around this so that people could get behind it and send a clear message. People have decided not to support that approach and that is regrettable given what is at stake. I do not suspect any such division in this House when Members decide to vote on the motion tomorrow hopefully, or I should say not to vote but to agree the motion either tonight or tomorrow.
I thank the House for the opportunity to respond to some of the issues that were raised.
I thank the Minister. I also thank colleagues for the number of Members who took part and stayed to ensure this was a very good debate. The gravity of this situation is very clear and the response of Members matches the situation we are in.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.