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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jun 2022

Vol. 285 No. 11

Situation in Ukraine: Motion

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Thomas Byrne, who has responsibility for European affairs. He is doing a lot of work in this area as has Senator Dooley. Like me, Senator Dooley has visited Ukraine, as has Mr. Billy Kelleher, MEP, and the Ceann Comhairle.

It is important for us to have this debate at this particular time in terms of the sanctions that have been taken and the increase in sanctions by the European Union. We all agree that that is important but obviously more can be done because, as has been pointed out time and again, it is the purchase of Russian gas that helps to fund the war against the people in Ukraine, which in of itself is something on which we must reflect.

While we are against the war in Ukraine and will support it as best we can as a neutral country, as Members will be aware the Ukrainian Government has called for more sanctions than what has happened heretofore. During the meetings that we had with the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Mr. Stefanchuk, whom we hope will address this House at some stage, the Ukrainian Prime Minister and President Zelenskyy called on Ireland to do more. When they address different countries they are aware of all of the issues that relate to Ireland and every particular country so they do not do a single transferable speech. They know what Ireland can and cannot do. They are aware of our expertise in terms of landmines and ordnance from our experience in southern Lebanon and have called for us to assist when the appropriate time comes. There are 300,000 sq. km of land that was occupied by Russian forces, which now must be checked so that means houses and the land itself. The Ukrainians have found that the Russians booby-trapped places as they left as hand grenades have been found in washing machines and children's pianos. Therefore, every house and building must be checked but it will take years to clear 300,000 sq. km of mines.

The Ukrainian Government has asked, and this is a clear ask for Ireland not just to be supporters of Europe, in terms of Ukraine's membership of the European Union, but also for us to be advocates. I and the Ceann Comhairle undertook that we would write to the speakers of the parliaments of other countries in the European Union and we would ask them to ask their members to allow for the accelerated membership of Ukraine into the EU. That is a very good example of ripple diplomacy where by having one meeting one essentially asks for those particular members, and people whom one meets, to become advocates for their cause. Hopefully, members of the Ukrainian Parliament will come to the Seanad as well to address us on this very important war. This war is not just a war for Ukraine but a war for Europe because, as we know, the Russians are on our doorstep in the battle for Ukraine and if they win that battle they will be inside the door next. This is not the end of Russian aggression and is just a continuation.

I welcome the Minister of State and Members to the House. Leading off on the motion for the Fianna Fáil group is Senator Timmy Dooley.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:


- the right of Ukraine to exist as a sovereign, independent state that is free to choose its own political and military alliances following its own legal and constitutional provision;

recognises that:

- the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February, 2022 by the Russian Federation was an unprovoked act, and is contrary to international law;

- the Russian Federation has perpetrated military attacks, including shelling with heavy military equipment, missile attacks launched against Ukraine, including civilian targets and sniper fire against civilians fleeing from their burning homes;

- Russian military and paramilitary forces have engaged in genocide during the invasion;

- the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, has complemented the invasion with state-sponsored oppression, propaganda, false reporting and deliberate deceit within his own country in an effort to justify his actions;

- barbaric acts of murder, rape, desecration of corpses and the wide-scale use of heavy military equipment against civilians have taken place in many cities throughout Ukraine by the Russian military;

acknowledges that:

- the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

- killing members of the group;

- causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

agrees that:

- the acts sanctioned by the political leadership of the Russian Federation and carried out by the military of the Russian state are intended to:

- kill innocent Ukrainian civilians in their home country;

- cause serious bodily and mental harm to the people of Ukraine;

- deliberately inflict conditions which have brought about the psychical destruction of Ukraine and its people;

further agrees that:

- the acts carried out by the Russian military meet the criteria for genocide set out in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and as such, the illegal invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation is an act of genocide;

and calls for:

- Governments around the world to maintain and strengthen sanctions on the Russian Federation while working to end the imports of Russian oil, gas and coal which are funding the Russian war machine against the Ukrainian people and its territories; and

- the political leadership of the Russian Federation to be held accountable for its crimes in Ukraine.

I understand that there is significant support for the motion around the House. It is very clear to all concerned the importance of Ireland standing firm with the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian parliamentarians and the people of Ukraine across the world in standing up to the aggression that has been foisted upon them by Russia.

It is just happenstance yet welcome that this motion is being taken this week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, held a meeting here in Dublin, which had in attendance a number of Ukrainian parliamentarians. I met a number of them yesterday. A delegation of ten Ukrainian parliamentarians will arrive in Ireland tomorrow to attend the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, conference that will take place at the Convention Centre Dublin. The Deputy Prime Minister for Ukraine, Ms Olha Stefanishyna, who has responsibility for European affairs, will be in Ireland on Friday and another very well know Opposition politician, Ms Kira Rudyk, will also be here representing her party called Holos. The Holos party is already a member of the ALDE group of parties across Europe. I hope that on Friday the Servant of the People party, of which President Zelenskyy and Ms Olha Stefanishyna are members, will formally join the ALDE family. So Ireland is playing a central role in the life of the parliamentary affairs of Ukraine at this really important time. While I have described Ms Kira Rudyk as an Opposition politician, she is very quick to respond when she is described as such and say that in the Ukraine at the moment there is no Opposition as all politicians work collectively. We often speak with one voice in this Parliament and think that we will do so tonight.

Right from the very start Ireland has taken a very proactive role in support for the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian Parliament. It was either day 10 or day 12 of the war when Billy Kelleher, MEP, and I were invited by the Servant of the People party to visit the city of Lviv to see the humanitarian crisis unfold for the refugees who were fleeing the war of aggression and attempting to make it to safe ground in Poland. What we witnessed on that occasion really was something to see at close hand. It was an appalling vista. We saw people, principally women and children, who had queued for two days in lines of anything between 6 km to 10 km depending on how quickly they got through and there were lines of cars that ranged up to 20 km. Thankfully, that situation has come to an end. The vast majority of the people fleeing the country have gotten out but they went through hell on earth to do so.

Billy Kelleher, MEP, myself and other people have returned to the region since. I know that the Cathaoirleach has more recently visited the same region of Kyiv and north west of Kyiv into the areas of Irpin and Bucha, which had been occupied for some time by Russian forces. We saw at first hand the absolute devastation that had been visited on a law-abiding, well meaning and viable community. It was most distressing to see what these people had been put through. Many Ukrainian citizens had managed to escape but those who had not were obliterated individual by individual with heaving bombing with mortar shells from tanks and other missile launchers right down to tank fire and then right down to rifle fire. So nobody got out. Once Russian forces surrounded the area nobody could get out. We saw cars that had been riddled with bullets. We saw blood stains left by individuals who had been left to die and, in some cases, they were killed before the Russians left and we saw what had been left.

We spoke to community leaders and clergy who had done an amazing heroic job. In an effort to show some level of respect to the dead, they gathered the bodies under the cover of darkness on occasion. As the soldiers had moved on believing that they had killed everyone in sight these people gathered the bodies. In some cases they used body bags and where they did not have body bags they had to place the bodies on carts and then bury these people in the grounds of a church. Initially, that was a mass grave. I think that others will have seen coverage of the mass grave as it has been well documented and ventilated. When the international community managed to get into the region, as the Russians were pushed back or left, the painstaking work commenced whereby bodies were removed from the ground, taken to morgues, attempts were made to identify these people so that their bodies would be returned to their families, and there was a process to try to identify the cause of death. From what I saw, and what was relayed to me, the cause of death in most cases was very obvious. These people had been shot in the face, in the back of the head and on the side of the head with the clear intent of murdering them.

The Cathaoirleach visited Irpin and Bucha and he can attest to the fact that these areas have no military compounds or army bases. There is no war machine of Ukraine located in the region. There are no logistic centres either. In fact, they were high-end dormitory towns near the city of Kyiv, a bit like Dún Laoghaire, Dalkey and some other upmarket locations here. One could see that there were new apartment complexes and families building their lives.

These places were no threat and had no interest in threatening anyone, but because this was a strategic route to the centre of Kyiv, where the Putin war machine believed it was about to topple the Government of President Zelenskyy, they were collateral damage. I am no expert on war or how to define it but I have read enough to know that targeting innocent civilians in the game some people call war, to use that awful term, falls well outside those actions that can be considered the operation of war and, as such, falls into war crimes. While this is a political forum and we are speaking politically, I cannot understand how any court of law, wherever it is located, could ever come to any conclusion other than to say that what was done in the areas of Irpin and Bucha, which I personally visited, cannot be described as anything other than war crimes. Mariupol is in a similar situation, albeit in a different location.

This motion declares those actions as war crimes. The systemic approach taken by the Russian military and the way in which its actions aim to leave nobody alive reaches the threshold whereby we can say the war of aggression on Ukraine amounts to genocide. That is what this motion does. If we pass this motion, we will be among a small number of houses of parliament to have given recognition to that statement, that is, that what Putin's war machine has done in Ukraine can only be described as genocide. The Cathaoirleach has had the opportunity to speak to Ukrainian people on the ground and he will be familiar with what they believe to have happened. They believe the clear intent of the Russian Federation, led by Putin, is to intimidate the citizens of Ukraine, as Ukrainian people, and make them subservient to that despot ruler. That meets the threshold of the description of genocide.

Language is important in all these case and we all make mistakes from time to time. I know a little about this. We need to be careful when we refer to the Russian Federation and Russia. We need to be guarded about this because this is not a Russian war. It is a Putin war. I know quite a number of people in Russia because the ALDE party I spoke about has an affiliate in Russia, a party called Yabloko. I spoke on Zoom to a number of people from that party yesterday. They want to make it painstakingly clear that the actions being taken by the Putin war machine do not reflect the sentiments, desires, wishes, goals or ambitions of many people in Russia. It is estimated through surveys that 30% of the Russian population does not support what is going on. However, there is a caveat to that figure. Russia is not like we are here when it comes to an opinion poll. If someone puts a microphone or a clipboard in front of people and asks them their opinion on the war, their immediate reaction will be to ask who is asking the question. It is unlikely to be an independent polling company. People are afraid to express an opinion and are more likely to indicate support for government action rather than what they really believe because of the fear of reprisals by the Putin war machine. While we must stand full-square behind and with the Ukrainian people in every way we can, we must also recognise there is a silent cohort of people in Russia who are desperately pained by what is happening.

This motion must be seen in the context of where Ireland has always stood. There are some who are somewhat ambiguous in their support for Ukraine because they think that approach flies in the face of what is often referred to as our neutrality. We are militarily neutral but you cannot be neutral in any shape or form from either a diplomatic or human nature perspective when you see a peaceful people getting on with their lives and doing their business and their neighbour decides to come and covet their land, their people and their assets. There is no place in the world for that anymore. Those kinds of battles were fought in a different century and diplomacy has moved on considerably. Going back to the approach of resolving issues through wars of aggression cannot be supported by anyone.

We must also reflect on the generosity of the Irish people, who have put their hands in their pockets in so many different ways, including through appeals for funding through the aid agencies, of which the Red Cross is to the fore. UNICEF and others have done amazing work in supporting refugees, both here and for those displaced throughout Europe. That is testament to the Irish people's continued support for people who are under pressure or fighting aggression. We also must recognise the tremendous work of communities right across Ireland, who have welcomed them with open arms. I can speak of that at first hand. I have seen the level of support in the county of Clare, where I come from, whether in Lisdoonvarna, Ennis, Shannon or throughout the county, where communities have come together to support the large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, principally women and children, who are now getting on with life. They may be living in hotels or guest houses or whatever but they are getting into school, starting to play sport and starting to play with the kids on the street. It is lovely to see it but then you have to pinch yourself and remember what is behind this. Many of these people will never see their loved ones again.

While the focus from all sides has been on who is winning or losing, in every battle people die at a massive rate and on a daily basis. Neither side wants to talk about it because they want to keep going, but war is never good and it can never be a solution. I welcome the efforts being made by European prime ministers. I met with President Macron on Monday and with Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, both of whom have regular contact with President Zelenskyy and the despot Putin. They remain clearly on the side of good and support the Ukrainian people, but they are keeping channels open because they rightly believe diplomacy will have to come into play at some point, it is hoped sooner rather than later. This continued aggression is not going to solve the problem. There will have to be key talks. All of us across this House know how slow reaching a peaceful solution can be, but we are benefiting so much from what we have achieved in getting all sides in the Six Counties to a peace process that has worked. We have our political differences, which we will often air and toss around in this House, but we managed to silence the guns. That took a huge effort but it happened through dialogue, bravery, outside intervention and support. It is that kind of outside intervention and support that will help lead, we hope sooner rather than later, to a level of stagnation where the guns can be silent and people can start to rebuild their lives. They will need the continued support of this House, this country and the European Union.

I second the motion. I thank Senator Dooley and Fianna Fáil for using their Private Members' time for this motion. It is commendable. I will not repeat the various aspects of the motion. I believe in it. I do not think we need to rehearse all of this because are all well versed in it. I will use my time to share a few thoughts. I was prompted to think about this before I came here today.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle who went to Ukraine and represented our Houses. It was very moving and it sent a very strong and united message from us to Ukraine.

Last week the President unveiled a War of Independence monument in Kenmare. The Cathaoirleach was there, as was the President's wife, Sabina. During his visit the President met a 16-year-old boy, Pavlo Marin, who fled Ukraine on 3 March this year with his mother. He is now in transition year. It was reported on RTÉ and in the printed media that he told the President that his life has changed since coming from Ukraine to Ireland, with new opportunities and new beginnings. He said that he does not know how long he will be here but maybe it will be forever. He was not concerned about being here forever because he felt safe and secure. He realises the potential future he could have. Many people are fleeing their homes in Ukraine and it is terribly sad but many who have come here have found a temporary home and I hope many will find a permanent home, by choice. The President went on to talk about people fleeing Ukraine and Ireland and about migration. He suggested that the Irish might know more about migration than most and said that it is important we meet the needs of those coming here.

While we can address all of the issues raised in the motion, it does not call for a lot in the end. I do not say that in a disrespectful way. The motion sets out the issues and what it calls for only amounts to two paragraphs. I would like to add, in conversation rather than by way of a formal amendment to the motion, that it is important that we are mindful of migrants and refugees, as the President said. Many of these people are not coming here by choice. We need to talk about integration, mainstreaming people into work and about every Government Department being conscious of the demands, needs and genuine expectations of people coming here. We are their hosts. We invited them in and welcomed them warmly. The Government was right to tap into the emotion of the nation, its citizens and its people. However, we must ensure that our guests are protected and are not excluded from our communities and our society, that they are not put in ghettos or in inappropriate long-term accommodation. They must be given full access to public health services. We must prioritise social inclusion and access to education. It is also important that they continue to use their native language and that we respect their culture. Many will want to go back but if they do not have their own language it will be so much more difficult for them to go back to their homeland. We also need to address health, employment and training opportunities and pathways to work because many of these people will choose to stay. I hope they will all be welcome. We need to address integration in communities and to promote intercultural awareness, acceptance and support. We need to combat racism or the potential for racism or any form of exclusion that these people may experience. Of course, we must also promote the great love of Irish sport, music and culture and assist them in embracing some of our traditions. That is what real integration is about and that is the real challenge for us as a people. How can we meet their needs?

The President told Pavlo Marin that he hoped he would be happy here and that Ireland would meet his needs and those of the others who have come here. I thank Fianna Fáil and all of those involved in preparing this motion. It is commendable, right and appropriate. Let us not lose sight of the simple things. Let us be advocates and leaders. Let us use our contacts in local government to support housing, integration and acceptance right across this country. That is the real challenge and the real test. In time, interest in all controversies, disasters and wars dilutes and people's emotional connection is not the same. It weakens over time. Let us show Ireland at its best. Let us show that we genuinely believe these people are here for support, that they want to be in our communities and that they will enrich our society by bringing greater diversity-----

We will learn more from that sharing and that common humanity. I thank Members for bringing this motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend Senator Dooley on his very fine contribution and on his commitment. I also commend the Cathaoirleach on his recent visit to Kyiv and Ukraine. It is important that we stand in unison as a House.

I hope that other parliaments across Europe will take up the clarion call from the Cathaoirleach. What we saw this week from Europe is not good enough. The Minister of State has shown leadership, as has the Irish Government but other countries are beginning to fray at the edges and we have to stand up to that. Senator Boyhan is right that we have a duty to welcome the men, women and children who have come to our country and to inculcate a love of their language, culture and customs but also of ours, and that is happening right across the country. I commend Senator Conway for the extraordinary work he has done and is doing every day in County Clare.

This is a very important motion. I do not agree with those who have said that we have not been strong leaders. We have been really strong leaders and advocates, as a Government, a country and a people. I support accelerating Ukraine's application for membership of the EU and I ask the Minister of State to provide an outline of the situation in that regard. In 2019, I joined other Members of this Oireachtas as an election observer during the presidential election in Ukraine. I stood in Independence Square during political rallies. We are all aware of the razzmatazz of election campaigns and the electioneering that goes on. On Sunday morning, on the day of the vote, I was struck by an elderly lady who cherished the idea of democracy being hers and being put into reality and into practice. She looked forward to going to vote. I remember the excitement of the ballot boxes being opened in the schools. I have pictures on my phone that show this excitement. I remember there was a controversy at the end of the night about closing a particular polling station. People were still standing in line because they wanted to vote, they wanted to participate in the election of their president. Look at what is happening today. Senator Dooley and the Cathaoirleach very eloquently and graphically illustrated the situation today. Imagine looking into a child's piano or a washing machine. Think in the future of the illegal arms that will swamp parts of Europe.

Today in this House we must not just stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine but must ensure there is a proactive call to action across the EU and the world. There can be no obfuscation by some. We must look to China, Hungary, Turkey and others and call them out. Last week in this House, Congressman Neal spoke about Ukraine in his contribution. Where are our fellow Ukrainian parliamentarians today? They are not doing what we are doing because they cannot. This motion is not about the world that Senator Dooley spoke about. It is about working to ensure that the progress, peace and economic prosperity that Europe has made and enjoyed since the Second World War continues.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for his proactivity, his words and his visit. I commend Senator Dooley for his work and I also commend the Minister of State.

Let us look at the wording of the motion. There are references to "illegal invasions", "war crimes", "killing of innocents", "causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group", "barbaric acts of murder, rape, desecration of corpses and the wide-scale use of heavy military equipment against civilians". Language does matter. I am pleased this House will stand united tonight in support of this motion.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh an rún atáimid á phlé anocht. Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag an Seanadóir Dooley as an rún a chur os ár gcomhair. Is rún tábhachtach agus suntasach é agus, mar atá ráite ag comhghleacaithe eile, gheobhaidh sé tacaíocht ar fud an tSeanaid anocht.

Russia's full-frontal and declared invasion of Ukraine has entered its third month. More than 4,000 people - men, women and children - have been deliberately killed by the Russian military in the carpet bombing of cities, towns, villages and hamlets. The Russian Government is waging its war against defenceless civilians, with no regard to the many human rights conventions that ban such crimes against humanity during war.

The Russian Government's bombing strategy is to force the civilian population to leave their homes and create a wasteland for the Russian Government to seize as its territory. The Russian bombardment has left eastern Ukraine in ruins. In the war it is waging in the Donbas region, we can see that the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk are slowly being annexed by the Russian military. As a consequence of Russian aggression, millions of Ukrainians have been uprooted from their homes and are now refugees in their own country and across the European Union.

It is important that we remind ourselves that the Russians have been involved in an undeclared war in Ukraine from 2014, when they invaded Crimea and the Donbas region. Since 2014, nearly 15,000 people have died in this undeclared war. In that context, it is nothing short of an amazing story that the people of Ukraine have not only halted the Russian military juggernaut in its attempt to take Kyiv but have forced it back. The people of Ukraine, of all ages, gender and class, have joined the national resistance to free their country from Russian occupation. The Ukrainian resistance has inspired the people of the world and especially the people of the EU. It is truly a David versus Goliath struggle. People have rallied to their cause and are assisting them in many ways, especially the welcome that refugees have received here in Ireland. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Boyhan in particular in terms of that solidarity and how we move forward in welcoming refugees from Ukraine and indeed from wherever they happen to come to make Ireland their home.

The people of Ukraine are entitled to fight for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country. They are entitled to the support for their fight against the Russians, which the people of Ireland and the Irish Government rightly support. Sinn Féin also supports the extension of the sanctions against Russia and welcomes the most recent decision by the EU to block most Russian sea-borne oil imports by the end of 2022. Two thirds of Russian oil arrives into the EU by sea. This sanction will cut off a huge source of finance to the Russian war machine. We also welcome the pledge by Poland and Germany to end pipeline oil imports from Russia. I also welcome the news that Russia's largest bank, Sherbank, is to be removed from the SWIFT payment system, which allows the rapid transfer of money across borders. Vladimir Putin needs to continue to feel the world's anger at his immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine. This is best expressed in the help that is being given to the armed forces opposing the occupation, in the sanctions that are being taken and in the worldwide condemnation and isolation of Russia on the international stage.

If the Russian Government, by its actions, puts itself beyond the world consensus on how difficult matters are to be resolved through tried and trusted diplomatic channels, then it must feel collective pressure. It must be collective pressure, not with the purpose of prolonging the conflict but, on the contrary, to end the conflict as soon as possible through a process of credible negotiations. These negotiations must bring peace and the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity while recognising and protecting Russia's territorial integrity.

There are many immediate consequences for governments across Europe that are trying to manage the fallout from the war. All efforts need to be employed to ensure that the predictable collateral damage is minimised. At home, the Government must continue its assistance to Ukrainian refugees. The EU must continue its support to Moldova and Romania. Russia's decision to blockade supplies of wheat and grain from leaving Ukrainian ports will lead to devastating consequences for those poorer countries dependent on Ukraine and Russia for food supplies. Failure to act will result in a humanitarian catastrophe for parts of Africa and the Middle East, leading to unprecedented levels of famine, forced migration and political instability in the region.

The one big lesson in this war that everyone needs to take on board is that militarism in whatever guise has no place in the modern world. The fact that diplomacy has failed the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia is not an argument against it. It is certainly not an argument for people in this State to raise questions about the neutrality of this State.

At yesterday's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, we heard from the Ukrainian ambassador and President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff. I asked him how Ireland could assist through our position on the UN Security Council. He lauded our record of peacebuilding, negotiation and conflict resolution and encouraged us to lean in to those efforts further as we move ahead.

The Russian invasion is totally unjustified. The military tactics used by Russian troops are cruel, excessive and uncivilised. The Russian Government must accept that its military aims are not achievable. It needs to end its military campaign and sue for peace immediately.

I begin by thanking you, a Chathaoirligh, the Ceann Comhairle, and colleagues throughout the Seanad who have come back with stories from recent trips to Ukraine. They are very important stories of what is happening on the ground. As Senator Dooley outlined, those stories form the basis of this important debate we are having at this juncture in the war. I thank Senator Dooley and the Fianna Fáil Senators for putting forward this very important motion during Private Members’ business tonight. There can be no doubt that the dreadful events surrounding the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, almost 100 days ago, was an unprovoked act contrary to international law.

In supporting this motion tonight, the Labour Party recognises the right of the great people of Ukraine to democratically elect their own political leaders and for those same people to be able to choose which international organisations they wish to join. The horrific reports of the murder and rape of the Ukrainian population by this occupying force must be the subject of international court scrutiny. The motion before us tonight mentions the deliberate deceit, misreporting and propaganda that we have all listened to over the past 100 days and which it seems has also been used to justify this unlawful invasion in Russia.

The call in the motion that governments around the world maintain and strengthen sanctions on the Russian Federation while continuing the work - accelerated this week by the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Taoiseach in Brussels - to end the imports of Russian oil, gas and coal, which are funding this murder and terror against the Ukrainian people and their homeland, should be supported by all. We have all seen the horrific pictures of the destruction of this once proud country and the bodies of members of this proud nation lying in their streets. It is unacceptable and must be called out as such.

I take the opportunity afforded by this motion to thank the Irish people for their efforts in welcoming the many proud Ukrainians who have come to our shores to find safety among us. Other colleagues have made this point also. I am told recently that some 600 of the almost 30,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to my home county of Kildare. There have been a number of welcoming committees and they continue to meet and assist these displaced people in my county. I thank them most sincerely for their efforts.

My office continues to deal with a number of queries from many of those who have come to our shores. One of the issues raised a number of times with me is the ability of those fleeing the war in Ukraine to continue their education while with us. I note from a recent reply from the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science that work is ongoing and that a national student and researcher help desk is now in place to assist those wishing to continue their education. In addition, there are further issues with those from Ukraine in our primary and secondary school system. I note the Minister for Education is before the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science this evening to answer questions on those issues.

I thank my party leader, Deputy Bacik, for hosting members of Ukrainian Action in Ireland in the Oireachtas this week. They came to show their initial findings of a survey of those who have fled here from Ukraine, which is an important piece of work and important information for us all.

It is important to note that Ireland has had diplomatic relations with Ukraine since 1992 and we established an embassy in Kyiv in August 2021. I am informed that Ukraine has had an embassy in Ireland since 2003. Prior to the almost 30,000 refugees coming to our country from Ukraine, there were already 3,000 Ukrainians living in Ireland before the war.

In many cases, these people had put down strong roots within our communities, contributed handsomely to community life in this State and been important and valuable members of their communities. Since this war began, 6.3 million people have fled their homes, a greater number than all the people on this island we all call home. Within Ukraine, 7.7 million people are internally displaced and 10.2 million are in need of food and livelihood assistance. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as of 17 May recorded 7,964 civilian casualties, of which 3,778 were killed and 4,186 injured. This is a war the people of Ukraine did not want and one that has changed and devastated their country for a long time. It may also have changed the face of Europe, an outcome we will all have to deal with. I commend Fianna Fáil Senators on bringing forward this motion. The Labour Party fully supports it.

I welcome to the Gallery the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Bacik. She is welcome back to Seanad Éireann, albeit temporarily. I am sure she does not wish to come back permanently any time soon but we are always delighted when she visits on occasions like this. It is an issue I am sure she would be in the middle of if she were still in the Seanad, but I know she is championing the cause in Dáil Éireann. We are thankful for her presence.

Tá áthas orm bheith sa Seanad anocht. Russia's shocking, illegal invasion of Ukraine - a further invasion of Ukraine, of course - which started on 24 February, is a profound event with numerous implications for the entire world. I thank Senator Dooley for all his work, particularly on the political front with political parties in Ukraine who have been advancing the cause of democracy there in recent years. I am glad he is organising for a number of them to be in Ireland this weekend at the ALDE Party Congress Dublin 2022, an extremely important event for the people of Ukraine, especially the Servant of the People party, which I expect will be admitted to membership of the ALDE party.

Ireland has been united and everybody has agreed we should call for peace. We have called in all relevant forums for Russia to withdraw its troops immediately from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Ireland has always been ready to support meaningful dialogue which could deliver peace. We commend the Ukrainian Government's willingness to participate in dialogue while simultaneously defending its country from Russia's unjustifiable military aggression.

Achieving an end to Russia's violence and to the grave humanitarian consequences it has created is an important priority. However, pursuing peace never means we neglect the need to see justice done. Peace and justice reinforce each other.

The text of this motion has a strong focus on holding Russia accountable for its behaviour in Ukraine. The most important facet of the resolution is its call that those responsible for crimes in Ukraine be held to account. This focus should remain to the fore in international consideration of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Everybody responsible within and without Russia should be held accountable. The Seanad provides a platform for this important principle tonight. That is important.

The further invasion of Ukraine, starting on 24 February 2022, was and is a gross violation of international law. All of us are aware of the many reports, seen by Senator Dooley, the Cathaoirleach and others, of shocking acts perpetrated by the invading Russian forces.

When the Minister, Deputy Coveney, debriefed the UN Security Council on 19 April following his visit to Ukraine, he was able to bear witness in the council chamber to what he had seen, focusing on the town of Bucha. He described hundreds of family homes, shops and other civilian infrastructure blackened, burnt, looted, damaged and, in some cases, completely destroyed. He described family cars riddled with bullets, windshields smashed and bloodstains evident. He described standing at the edge of one of the mass graves while the work of carefully exhuming bodies continued. A total of 503 civilians had been identified at that stage and just four soldiers. Reports like this horrify us all and remind us that we cannot slacken in our support to Ukraine and to the Ukrainian people. I was glad to meet the ambassador from Ukraine in the corridors this evening and reiterate our support. The events of these months must never be forgotten.

I will speak on the support Ireland is giving for Ukraine's membership of the European Union. Ireland has joined a group of member states called the friends of enlargement and is to the fore in supporting Ukraine in its quest for candidate status. Tonight, the ambassador or permanent representative in Brussels is hosting a meeting of the group of countries supporting Ukraine's accession to the European Union. Ireland will continue to lead on that. The Taoiseach has given strong leadership on that and reiterated that point at the European Council on Monday. Ireland supports the strongest possible sanctions and always has. We have achieved much, and more than people would have given us credit for. Pretty much every bank in Russia is de-SWIFTed, as it were. That was not thought possible before Christmas. Huge parts of the Russian economy are now sanctioned. We will not get everything we look for because different countries have different needs and some countries, unfortunately, are wholly dependent on Russian oil, but we have come a long way.

The motion refers to genocide, specifically in its conclusion. The determination of an act of genocide involves a complex analysis of fact and law. Ireland's practice is to recognise genocide only when this has been established by a final decision of an Irish court or international tribunal, or where there is international consensus on the matter. Both the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC, and the relevant legal authorities of a number of states, including Ukraine, are conducting criminal investigations into numerous acts committed by Russian forces that may constitute international crimes, including genocide. It is important we let these investigations run their course and do not pre-empt outcomes. However, there are serious, sincere and widely shared concerns that the act of genocide may well have been committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, and those responsible must be held accountable.

Ireland and our EU partners are clear on the need for international justice mechanisms to assist in delivering such accountability. Ireland is a strong supporter of the ICC and is one of more than 40 states parties to refer the situation in Ukraine to the office of the prosecutor of the ICC for the purposes of investigating the matters Senator Dooley discussed, namely, the claims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The prosecutor has started investigation activities in Ukraine. The starting of investigations is intended to lead to the prosecution at the ICC of individuals for the commission of crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of that court. It is important we allow these investigations to proceed with independence and impartiality, values that are fundamental to that court's work and mandate and to any court in our democracies. We have expressed some concern to the Ukrainian authorities about their proposed legislation, which could limit Ukraine's co-operation with the court solely to possible crimes committed by Russian forces. The court must be allowed to do its work independently.

There are now additional staffing and financial pressures on the ICC and it has asked for further resources from states parties. In response to this, Ireland announced on 14 April that it will provide an additional €3 million to the ICC, €1 million of which has already been dispersed to the office of the prosecutor. Although announced in Ukraine, this voluntary contribution will be made available for the benefit of all country situations under investigation or on trial, as the rules governing such funding preclude it being used to influence any one investigation. The situations in Palestine, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo are other matters before the court. Ireland is also investigating the possibility of providing national seconded experts from our Civil Service or others to the office of the prosecutor.

To date, EU member states have agreed to contribute €7,646,000 and to second 16 experts to the ICC to be made available for the benefit of all situations before the court. France, Czechia, Lithuania and Slovakia have offered the services of 32 experts to the judicial authorities in Ukraine, while the Netherlands has provided a forensic and investigative team of around 30 experts under the aegis of the ICC. The voluntary contributions made to the ICC have proved essential in supporting the prosecutor's investigation of the situation in Ukraine, but the best way to meet the resourcing needs of the office of the prosecutor and all the other organs of the court is through the court's regular programme budget, which has to go up.

On 25 March, Eurojust established a joint investigative team, JIT, consisting of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, to co-ordinate the collection and sharing of evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukrainian territory. On 25 April, the ICC joined the JIT as a partner and the Czechian, Estonian, Latvian and Slovakian governments are expected to formalise their membership shortly.

Another important tool in the rapid work of holding Russia accountable has been the use of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE's Moscow mechanism. On 3 March, the Moscow mechanism was invoked by Ukraine, supported by 45 of the OSCE's participating states, including Ireland. Subsequently, a mission of three experts was appointed on 14 March, which delivered its report to Ukraine as the inviting state on 5 April. The mission's mandate was to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding possible contraventions of OSCE commitments and possible violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The mission was also mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including due to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. It will act to collect, consolidate and analyse the information with a view to presenting it to the relevant accountability mechanisms as well as national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have, or may in future have, jurisdiction.

The mission's initial report found credible evidence of violations concerning the most fundamental human rights, mostly in the areas under the effective control of Russia, as well as clear patterns of violations of international humanitarian law committed by Russian forces. A further invocation of the Moscow mechanism is expected tomorrow to cover the period following the first report.

Holding Russia accountable for violations of international law must continue to be pursued by the multilateral system. Ireland has been a strong and consistent voice in so doing. As a member of the UN Security Council, Ireland is supporting efforts to bring an end to the conflict through diplomatic means, to hold Russia accountable, and to call out Russia's cynical attempts to use the Security Council and other UN bodies to spread disinformation. Ireland has co-sponsored two resolutions on Ukraine at the General Assembly. Importantly, we also co-sponsored a resolution, adopted by the General Assembly on 7 April, that suspended Russia from the UN Human Rights Council for its gross and systematic violations of human rights. Ireland co-sponsored a Human Rights Council resolution establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of Russia's invasion. Ireland is one of 56 countries that supported a special session of the Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine resulting from the Russian invasion. Ireland has joined the Group of Friends of Accountability, an informal group of countries dedicated to ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and other crimes perpetrated in this conflict.

On some specific conclusions the motion makes, the Government deems it important to avoid pre-empting any determination that may be made by the ICC or any other competent judicial mechanism. Of course, the Seanad is free to make its own political determination separate from the ICC's proceedings, which I know the Seanad agrees are important. Nevertheless, Russia's violence in Ukraine has been morally repugnant and disgusting and we are making every effort we can internationally to ensure the facts are recorded and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Ireland will play its part in ensuring these events will never be accepted nor forgotten.

I thank the Seanad for the opportunity to address these issues and for Senators' contributions on the motion.

I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and his continued work in this area. I thank the Government for its leadership in Europe on this issue. Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that has never invaded another and we know what it is like to be in Ukraine's position. Therefore, we know what it is like to fight for our very survival as a country and a nation. That is why we stand with the people of Ukraine.

I thank colleagues from across the House who have united to support this motion. I am deeply appreciative that people have put their political differences aside and that we as a Chamber have come together around an issue that we hold dear, as has been well ventilated by all sides. There has been a recognition by all of the principles of democracy and that every country has a right to self-determination - to decide how to govern itself, elect its own leaders and make decisions on foreign policy and, equally, defence policy.

Ireland remains militarily neutral and we have not had any interest in joining any particular military alliance, but it is not for us to determine what any other democratic country might do. Neither is it for Russia or anyone else to decide what Ukraine, Finland, Sweden or any other country does in terms of its defensive policies. Being able to deal with its own business is something that should be open to every democratic country. The Ukrainian people have that right.

I am thankful to the Minister of State and the Government. Making a determination of genocide raises hackles in various Departments, with diplomatic flags going up and suggestions being made that perhaps this is not a decision we should be taking, but we must separate the politics from diplomacy and the justice system. There has rightly been an acceptance by politicians in this country generally that we do not stray into the decisions of courts. That is for a good reason, given that juries are sometimes influenced by what is said in the Houses. It has impacted on previous cases. However, the decisions that will ultimately be taken, most likely in The Hague, around war crimes or genocide in this instance will not be taken by citizens in isolation. Rather, they will be taken by qualified judicial practitioners who are not influenced by what anyone in this House says. They are not under our influence or direction. They will separate all of that out and go through the process on the basis of facts, no different from the way in which the Garda might follow an investigation or how the Special Criminal Court operates.

I have no problem with the House making a political judgment based not on what we have been told but on what we know and what some of us have seen. I am thankful other Senators are prepared to accept my bona fides and those of the Cathaoirleach - we have visited Ukraine and seen and spoken to people on the ground - and to stick with us and make that political judgment based on the evidence we have put before them. The courts will not be influenced by what we have said here or elsewhere. They will follow the evidence provided to them. I am happy we are not transgressing that important line - a line that should exist - separating our Legislature and a judiciary, given the way in which any such trial would be constituted and the jury would be independent of the sentiments expressed in this House.

We are taking the right decision. We are joining others in attempting to bring international pressure on the despot that is Putin. There is a notion that when the truth comes out and there is a laying down of arms, the Putin regime will want to reset diplomatic relations to what they were prior to the invasion and that it will be back to business as usual. Some commentary is attempting to do that, saying the sanctions will have to be lifted as part of the cessation of violence. That cannot happen. There cannot be a return to business as usual. Unfortunately for the Russian people, they will also suffer, but the people around Putin will have to be made to realise the decisions they took in February have consequences that will go beyond the ending of the violence. I hope that, in the fullness of time, the support of European politicians for individual parties in Russia that have democratic outlooks will lead to a change in direction in that country and that the people of Russia will at some stage recognise that the continuation of the Putin regime is not in their long-term interests, regardless of how they deemed it in the past.

It is not in their long-term interest. Europe must hold firm on that.

Whatever about the issues relating to energy, which we need, and the pressure that will put on, I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, on the role he has played behind the scenes, alongside the Taoiseach, in working to bring about the sixth package of energy sanctions. That is important. It will put pressure on us but, by God, it will put pressure on Russia too. That €1 billion per day it has taken from us and used to fuel the war in Ukraine must be brought to an end, no matter the difficulties we will face in the short term. The Russian regime must be feeling that pain for a long time to come and I have every expectation that it will.

I thank the Senator for his leadership in putting forward that motion and getting colleagues across the House to support this important issue. The longer the war goes on, it may leave the public consciousness because it will receive less coverage but it is nonetheless a war in which Europe must support Ukraine to win. That can only be done if we ensure Ukraine has the resources and the backing of Europe in all respects, including financially. It must be supported to ensure this war does not end up inside Europe's own borders, which is what we all fear.

Question put and agreed to.