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War in Ukraine: Ireland to ban Russian aircraft from entering Irish airspace

But Simon Coveney rules out expelling the Russian ambassador despite calls to do so

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (PA)

Hugh O'Connell

Ireland will move to unilaterally ban Russian aircraft from entering Irish airspace in the coming days even if a ban cannot be agreed at EU level, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney also told the Sunday Independent last night that he expected Ireland to expel some Russian diplomats as part of the next round of EU sanctions against Russia, but he ruled out expelling the Russian ambassador to Ireland despite growing calls to do so.

“For me not having a line of communication into Moscow, should they be in control of cities like Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, I think would be a mistake and I think we would regret it in time,” he said.

Mr Coveney said Ireland should “lead by example” on a Russian aircraft ban if agreement cannot be reached in Brussels given the UK, Poland and some Baltic countries have already done this.

“That’s not without its complications but I think that sends a very clear message, because we actually control a significant amount of airspace on the western boundaries of the European Union, and I think that would be a very strong clear signal,” he added.

He expects a third round of EU sanctions to be agreed this week to include Russia being banned from using the international SWIFT system for transferring finance.

He said there was “an overwhelming view now that we shouldn’t be holding back even though this will have knock-on implications and some unintended consequences”.

“If we had our way we would have had SWIFT involved in the second package of sanctions, but I think there is now consensus building around the need for SWIFT to certainly be included in the third package.”

He said there would also be a “whole range of names” added to the sanctions list in the third package and said that he was also encouraging his European colleagues to examine the inclusion of a ban on Russia accessing EU waters for fishing.

Dáil  foreign affairs committee chair Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan along with a group of backbench Fianna Fáil TDs, Senators and MEPs yesterday called for Russian ambassador Yuri Filatov to be expelled from Ireland, a demand already made by the opposition parties in recent days.

While saying he understood people were “mad as hell” over the Ukraine invasion, Mr Coveney said: “In my view it is important that we keep lines of communication open here for the sake of Irish citizens in the days and weeks ahead, who may well be caught up in very difficult humanitarian circumstances.

"I need a line of communication, not only to let Russia know how angry we are with the actions that they’re taking, but also to do my job as a foreign minister to be able to protect and look after and assist Irish citizens, because who knows Russia may be in control of Ukraine at some point in the weeks ahead.”

He said he was “confident there will be diplomatic expulsions at an EU level and I would be surprised if Ireland wasn’t part of that”.

Mr Coveney said he had also asked the European Commission to consider a “package of supports for EU countries that are going to be in some cases severely disrupted by the impact of sanctions and counter sanctions by Russia”. He said he would seek to work with the Aughinish Alumina refinery in Limerick to try to mitigate the impact of sanctions.

Elsewhere, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has instructed that no further applications from Russian citizens will be accepted into the Immigrant Investor Programme, a visa programme designed for individuals with a personal wealth of at least €2m who can secure immigration permission in Ireland in return for a long-term investment in a government-approved project.

“No applications from Russian citizens were being processed prior to this point,” Ms McEntee’s spokesperson said last night.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will attend an emergency meeting of EU energy ministers tomorrow.

Ireland sources roughly a quarter of its gas from the Corrib gas field, and three-quarters via the UK, which has diverse sources of supply, but very little of the UK’s gas comes from Russia.

The State also holds a three-month supply of oil stocks to meet demand.

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