'Mid-rank' Russian diplomat sent home
Ireland is "not neutral" when it comes to the use of chemical weapons and cyberterrorism, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
The country is now a fully fledged participant in a modern-day Cold War sparked by the attempted assassination of a former spy in the UK earlier this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the decision of the Irish Government to join more than 20 countries in expelling diplomats.
His Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, was summoned to a brief and frank meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday where he was told the name of a diplomat whose accreditation is to be terminated.
The Irish Independent understands the diplomat in question is considered 'mid-rank' and will leave the country in the coming days.
Mr Filatov described the expulsion as "totally unwarranted, uncalled for, senseless and regrettable".
He alleged that the world is witnessing a "complete cover-up" of what really happened in Salisbury.
Asked whether retaliation from Moscow is likely, the ambassador said the Government's decision "would not go unanswered".
The Irish Independent understands Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Taoiseach on Sunday evening that he had decided to proceed with an expulsion.
However, it was decided not to join the majority of EU states in making the announcement on Monday. Instead Mr Coveney briefed the Cabinet before the Ambassador was summoned yesterday.
Sources say the diplomat for expulsion was "not identified at random". He was chosen on the back of ongoing work by An Garda Síochána.
More than 20 countries have now expelled diplomats, including Finland and Sweden - who are also considered neutral.
Mr Putin is expected to formally announce his response later this week - although sources say it is not certain that he will enter a tit-for-tat with smaller countries like Ireland.
Mr Filatov said his colleagues at the Russian Embassy in south Dublin have "done nothing illegally".
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar defended himself against accusations he had gone into "full macho mode" by joining French President Emmanuel Macron to convince EU leaders to take action.
The Taoiseach said Ireland's long-standing neutrality is not under threat.
"We do not join military alliances, we will not be joining Nato and we will not be part of a European army," he said.
"However, when it comes to terrorism, assassinations, the use of chemical weapons, and cyberterrorism, we are not neutral one bit."
After initially expressing reservations about getting involved in the UK's battle, Fianna Fáil last night backed the Government's move. The party's foreign affairs spokesman, Darragh O'Brien, said: "Our military neutrality should never be moral neutrality."
He told the Dáil Russia is becoming "more belligerent", noting on several occasions in recent years Russian jets have entered Irish airspace. He said Russia was "determined to advance its own dubious agenda" and "undermine European values and ideals".
Sinn Féin is opposing the expulsion on the grounds there isn't enough evidence in the public domain to be sure Russia is behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Mary Lou McDonald said it was "not sufficient to simply cite solidarity with Britain".
"Such a significant foreign policy decision should be dictated by Irish security analysis."