By Dominic McGrath, PA
Ireland is open to more sanctions against Russia, the Taoiseach has said as he attends a key European Council meeting in Brussels.
European leaders and US president Joe Biden gathered in Brussels on Thursday for discussions on the latest response to the war in Ukraine.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who tested negative for Covid-19 after several days of isolating in Washington last week, joined other leaders on Thursday afternoon for the summit.
He told reporters he was “feeling very good” and praised the benefits of vaccination.
The EU meeting comes alongside Nato and G7 gatherings, as Western leaders try to remain united in the face of Russian aggression.
Mr Martin said that Ireland would back further measures against Russia, but stressed the importance of “unity of purpose” among EU states.
He accused Vladimir Putin of creating an “appalling humanitarian crisis”.
“This is a long haul, we’re very clear on this.
“We support the Commission’s focus on the longer haul energy implications in terms of reducing dependency on Russian oil and gas.
“Critically, looking at the energy security and energy supply issue for the autumn.”
On sanctions, Mr Martin said that Ireland supported “the widest and strongest set of sanctions”.
“Obviously, there are implications for other member states in terms of energy”
He said that there had to be a “balance” between hurting Russia and not leaving the EU exposed.
“Ireland is open to more sanctions and also that we enforce the sanctions we have now put in place,” he told reporters.
“We are very open to more sanctions, but we want to ensure that the existing sanctions are not circumvented.”
Namechecking India in particular, he said that “certain countries need to get off the fence”.
“People cannot stand on the sidelines here, in the face of this barbaric war.”
Ireland has already taken in over 10,000 Ukrainian refugees since the war began.
“This is an appalling displacement of so many people, and migration from a war zone, and therefore we have to do everything we possibly can to facilitate and respond to all those fleeing Ukraine,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Martin also raised again the possibility that Ireland might hold a citizens’ assembly as part of a nationwide debate on what he called “broader issues of European Union security”.
Ireland is a militarily neutral nation and has been sending non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian army.
European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said ahead of the meeting that he expected a “broadening” of sanctions.
“Ireland certainly will be working towards that, in supporting that,” he said.
“The difficulty of course is that you want to make sure that Russia feels the pinch very, very seriously.
“But that we don’t end up feeling a greater pinch than Russia.
“The punishment has to be to Russia, not to anybody else.”
However, he said it is important EU leaders remain unanimous over any possible measures.
He said while it is possible the EU could take more drastic action on Russian oil and gas imports, he acknowledged such a proposal has different levels of support in European capitals.
“You’ll have heard some other leaders cast some doubt on that,” Mr Byrne told RTÉ radio.
“Anything that happens at the European Council has to happen in a unanimous way.
“Discussion can take a different turn. And that’s certainly possible today.
“This is democracy. It’s complicated.
“Twenty-seven countries, and indeed parliaments in some cases, have to mandate leaders getting together.”