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'stand strongly' Taoiseach urges EU to support people of Belarus and back their right "to decide their own future"

Mr Martin made the comments during a speech to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party congress today

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Micheál Martin Picture by Gerry Mooney

Micheál Martin Picture by Gerry Mooney

Micheál Martin Picture by Gerry Mooney

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has urged the EU to stand with the people of Belarus and back their right "to decide their own government and their own future".

Mr Martin made the comments during a speech to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party congress today.

The EU last month agreed to ramp up sanctions against Belarus, following the forced landing of a plane flying over its territory.

Belarus forced the Ryanair flight carrying a wanted opposition activist to Vilnius to divert and land in Minsk, provoking an outcry from European leaders.

Mr Martin said: "We must stand strongly with the people of Belarus and their right to decide their own government and their own future.

"The gangsterism we saw with the hijacking of a plane last month shows a regime which is the opposite of strong. It is too weak to respect its own people or to respect basic laws.

"From this congress and from every element of the union, we must be resolute in standing with the people of Belarus."

During the speech, Mr Martin also referred to the decision by Irish footballers to "take a knee" as part of a protest against racial injustice.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban this week defended fans who booed Republic of Ireland players for taking a knee before a pre-Euro 2020 friendly in Budapest.

The Fianna Fail leader said in response: "The protection of values starts on a personal level. That's what we've seen by the decision of footballers to 'take a knee' over the past year.

"It's a statement by them about how they want their sport to be and the values they want to see on the pitch and in the stadiums.

"I am very proud of the footballers of my country, for their diversity and the shared values which they have committed themselves to."

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Mr Martin also called on the EU to learn lessons from the Covid-19 crisis to limit the impact of future pandemics.

He said: "We need a much stronger public health function at the centre of the union. The current system makes no sense and it leads to confusion and missed opportunities to more rapidly respond.

"The European Centre for Disease Control does valuable work, but we can surely all see how often our countries have delayed action through duplicating simple research and failing to co-ordinate action."

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