People Before Profit TDs refuse to applaud Zelensky’s Dáil speech, citing Ukraine’s calls for NATO intervention

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy

Hugh O'Connell and Gabija Gataveckaite

People Before Profit TDs refused to applaud the speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to a joint session of the Dáil and Seanad in Leinster House on Wednesday morning.

Mr Zelensky received an immediate standing ovation from nearly all TDs and Senators after he concluded his address to both houses of the Oireachtas where he called for Ireland to convince the European Union to impose more economic sanctions on Russia.

However, none of People Before Profit’s four TDs, Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny, Richard Boyd Barrett and Paul Murphy, applauded Mr Zelensky’s remarks.

In a statement, the left-wing party cited its opposition to the Ukrainian president’s persistent calls for Nato to impose a no fly zone over his country, as well as economic sanctions on Russia and the banning of opposition parties in Ukraine.

The four TDs were seen standing while all of the TDs and Senators around them applauded. Mr Kenny and Ms Smith both wore white.

In a statement issued by Paul Murphy, the party said: "We stood with the people of Ukraine and stand with them in their struggle against the Russian imperialist invasion.

“We don't agree with President Zelensky's calls for a NATO-imposed no fly zone, which would mean a hot conflict between NATO and Russia and contains the risk of nuclear war.

“We also don't agree with the extension of sanctions which are hurting ordinary Russian people and appear to be actually helping to bolster Putin's support at home.

“We also disagree with the banning of opposition parties who have almost 20pc of the vote between them.

“That isn't because we support those parties but because it's a dangerous attack on democratic rights which actually undermines the struggle against the invasion."

In a statement, Bríd Smith said: "We stood in solidarity and respect for Ukraine people and for their president; and the war crimes they are suffering at the hands of Putin but we disagree with calls he made previously for NATO involvement which we think would escalate an already dangerous situation and the call for further sanctions which we fear will weaken the opposition to Putin in Russia. [We are] also concerned about the decision to ban opposition parties in Ukraine."

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday afternoon, Fine Gael Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan called on the four People Before Profit TDs to apologise for not applauding Mr Zelensky's speech.

"To me they are a source of embarrassment to this parliament," he told TDs during a debate on the outcome of last month's European Council meeting. "They should make a personal statement to the Dáil [to apologise]."

The Limerick TD said that the four deputies had brought "unnecessary commentary" on the historic address to both houses of the Oireachtas on Wednesday morning.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told he could not comprehend how a wartime leader does not “merit applause”.

“I just can’t comprehend how you can hear a wartime leader, a man who literally took time out from trying to save his people and trying to save his country to address Dáil Éireann and some of the people’s representatives decided that that didn’t merit applause,” he said.

“I think it’s a distraction in many ways, I think it’s disappointing - President Zelensky gave a very moving address to the Dáil today and also a very stark analysis of the situation.”

However, did not echo Minister O’Donovan’s call on the TDs to apologise.

“They clearly wanted to make a political point, they’re perfectly entitled to make it, it’s just disappointing.”

Mr Harris added: “The fact that we're talking about Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett today, instead of President Zelensky, his message and the slaughter of Ukrainian people today is an utter distraction.”

Meanwhile, Government backbenchers including Fianna Fáil TDs Pádraig O’Sullivan, John McGuinness, John Lahart, Paul McAuliffe and Niamh Smyth as well as Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin applauded Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald’s call for the expulsion of the Russian Ambassador to Ireland.

The Irish Government has so far said it will not expel Yuriy Filatov unless there is consensus at an EU level.