Saturday 19 January 2019

Ireland’s response to Russia’s role in nerve agent attack is entirely correct

Our View

The Fine Gael Government have come in for much criticism in recent months - a lot of it justifiable - but the left wing denunciation of the decision to expel a Russian diplomat amid the fallout from the nerve agent attack in the UK is completely unjustified.

When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney announced last week that Ireland was to send a diplomat back to Russia they were pilloried by left wing politicians who accused the Government variously of abandoning neutrality; bandwagon jumping and doing the bidding of Teresa May.

Let us be clear the decision to expel the diplomat was made in support of a fellow European nation - our nearest neighbours - on whose soil, it appears certain, the agents of an often malevolent foreign power carried out a chemical weapons attack that has put the lives of hundreds of people at risk.

In response and in a creditable display of diplomatic restraint 26 countries have now expelled Russian diplomats, many of whom are also alleged to have been working as intelligence agents.

Russia has issued a series of increasingly unbelievable statements denying its involvement and - as would have been predicted by the other 26 governments - Vladimir Putin's regime has replied with tit-for-tat expulsions of its own.

This is the standard response to such incidents and while the diplomatic chess game might seem repellent to many it is how these things have been done for decades to prevent war.

This leads on to the Irish lefts' claim that Mr Varadkar's Russian move threatens Irish neutrality. To be clear, it absolutely does not.

Ireland's policy of neutrality - which is applied loosely at the best of times - relates to times of actual war.

Britain and Russia are not at war. They are in the middle of a hot-tempered diplomatic row over an heinous cross-border crime that is alleged by Britain to have been carried out by the agents of its supposed ally.

Ireland is not only permitted to take sides in such disputes we are obligated - by numerous treaties - to offer our support to our democratic allies. If a shocking incident like the Salisbury nerve agent attack were to happen in Tralee or Wexford wouldn't we be asking for international friends' backing?

Other opponents of Mr Varadkar's stance argued that there isn't sufficient proof that Russia is responsible and that the Irish Government is simply parroting the ill-informed opinions of the hawkish British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson comes across as a bloviating buffoon but as one of its most senior ministers even he is unlikely to be "uninformed" about a matter as sensitive as this one.

Furthermore it wasn't actually Mr Johnson who convinced the EU that Russia was behind the incident. That duty fell to the UK's National Security Advisor and after his briefing the EU was quick to agree that there was no other "plausible" explanation.

It all comes down to who you believe. Is it the UK and 26 other democracies or Vladimir Putin and his regime?

That might be a hard question for some, but not for most.

Enniscorthy Guardian