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 Header Item Shannon Airport Facilities (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Government Response to Salisbury Attack: Statements

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 967 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee] These principles apply automatically to foreign state or military aircraft in the same way that they apply to Irish State or military aircraft abroad. We are not applying one rule to somebody else and not to ourselves. To reiterate, our neutrality is in no way compromised. The Tánaiste and his Department are satisfied that the arrangements relating to the transit of US military personnel and the landing of US military aircraft at Shannon Airport do not challenge or undermine the policy of military neutrality in any way. This is of course something which we will continue to monitor and we will continue to engage with the US troops in the region on a daily basis.

Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh It is proposed, notwithstanding the Order of the Dáil of 27 March 2018 or anything in Standing Order 30, that No. 9a, motion re. report of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government under Standing Order 114, shall take place tomorrow, Tuesday, 27 March, on the conclusion of No. 9, motion re. proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the report by the Minister with responsibility for defence regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2016, and that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 9a: speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister or State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed five minutes each, and shall conclude after 40 minutes if not previously concluded; and all Members may share time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government Response to Salisbury Attack: Statements

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I want to begin by expressing my shock and sadness at Sunday’s devastating fire in a shopping centre in the Russian city of Kemerovo, which claimed so many lives. The fact that a number of children were among the victims is particularly tragic and upsetting. Our thoughts and condolences are with the victims, their loved ones and the Russian community here in Ireland at this very difficult time.

Separately, on 4 March Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury town centre in England. They were taken to hospital, where they remain in a critical condition from which they may never recover. Investigators discovered that they had been exposed to a nerve agent, traces of which were found in a local restaurant and pub. A police officer who went to their aid was also exposed to the poison and became seriously ill. He was only recently discharged from hospital. Over 130 civilians were potentially exposed, with 50 people being assessed in hospital.

On 12 March, Prime Minister May told the House of Commons that the Skripals were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. Her Government had concluded that there were only two plausible explanations for what happened. It was either a direct act by the Russian State against the United Kingdom or the Russian Government had lost control of this deadly nerve agent. The Russian Government was asked to provide an explanation for what had occurred and to make an immediate complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW.

On 14 March, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that Russia had not offered a credible explanation nor had it provided a reason for having an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law. As a result, the Government of the United Kingdom had concluded that the Russian State was highly likely to be behind the attempted murders. The Prime Minister announced a series of immediate actions, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers.

Since then, the international community has rallied to the UK’s side. On 15 March the leaders of France, Germany and the United States issued a joint statement with the United Kingdom in which they agreed with the British conclusion that there was no plausible alternative explanation. They noted that Russia further underlined its responsibility by its failure to address the legitimate request for information by the United Kingdom Government. They called on Russia to address all questions related to the attack and to provide a full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the OPCW.

Intensive briefings were provided by the United Kingdom at senior EU official level and to EU foreign ministers, including myself, at the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 March. Last Thursday, Prime Minister May explained to the European Council the basis on which her Government had come to its assessment. Her presentation was compelling. Having listened to it, and to the views of other Member States with significant security services that are in a position to verify what she said, the leaders of every member state of the EU, including those with historically close ties with Russia, unanimously agreed with the United Kingdom’s assessment that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible and that no plausible alternative explanation existed. The Taoiseach played an active part in what was a lengthy and substantive debate.

In the wake of these shocking events, it is essential all EU member states stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom. The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons, is particularly shocking and abhorrent. The reckless attack in Salisbury was the first known use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It was not just an attack against one country but an affront to the international rules-based system on which we all depend for our security and well-being. It is right that Ireland should stand in full solidarity with the UK, our closest neighbour, with which we share so much and with which we have, in many ways, a shared home in the European Union.

The European Council agreed to recall the EU ambassador to Russia for consultations. While the expulsion of diplomats is entirely a matter for national decision, it was agreed that member states should co-ordinate as far as possible. Yesterday, 16 EU member states announced that they would expel Russian diplomats. This is a clear majority of member states. It includes east and west, north and south, big and small, NATO and non-NATO. The United States, Canada, Norway, Australia and other countries with which we have excellent relations have taken similar steps for the same reasons. In total, 100 Russian diplomats have been expelled. President Tusk has said that additional measures within a common EU framework cannot be excluded in the coming days and weeks.

Following an urgent assessment conducted by the security services and relevant Departments chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, I briefed the Cabinet this morning on my intended course of action. Following that briefing, the Secretary General met the Russian Ambassador and informed him that the accreditation of a member of his staff with diplomatic status is to be terminated in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The individual in question is required to leave the jurisdiction within a short specified timeframe.

I am aware that there are those who will not agree with this decision. It is true that we are not in a position to verify independently the United Kingdom’s assessment of responsibility for Salisbury. However, I underline that the evidence advanced by the UK, which has been confirmed by other key countries, has convinced all 27 other EU leaders to act. Some people have drawn analogies with the question of weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war. There is no gainsaying that a weaponised nerve agent was used against the Skripals. Whereas Iraq divided the EU, this issue has actually united countries.

There are those who will say we should have waited until the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded its investigation. The OPCW is not investigating the circumstances of the poisoning or responsibility for it. The United Kingdom has notified the OPCW about the case of the nerve agent and has invited it to verify its scientific analysis and findings.

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