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;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.