Ireland has argued forcibly to accelerate Ukraine’s accession to the EU at a special summit of European leaders in France.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he spoke strongly in favour of the Union facilitating Ukraine’s pathway to early membership at a meeting of the 27 leaders in the Palace of Versailles.
“The enlargement process has been too slow over the past decade in relation to countries in the neighbourhood of the EU,” Mr Martin said.
“Geopolitically it is important. The world is polarising between authoritarian states and dictators, and democracies that cherish basic values and freedom of speech.”
He said there was no better way to demonstrate that than to allow Ukraine early accession.
“Those who are fighting now, they are fighting for the children’s future and they want that future to be in a democratic Europe.
“There was an emotionally compelling presentation by quite a number of States: the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary and others on the border of Ukraine,” he said.
However, no decisions were taken as it was an informal meeting.
Mr Martin also conceded that some member states were not in favour of changing the current process.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the two-day meeting which was hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron, Mr Martin gave a downbeat assessment of the current situation in Ukraine.
“There are no major prospects of an end to the war. Clearly the human toll and suffering and death is increasing,” he said.
“There is considerable concern for the latter part of this year that this war and the shock it has created across the economic and financial systems of the world could impact on economic growth and that is a big concern.”
He criticised Russia’s call for a meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations on chemical weapons as a “cynical move”, and Russian president Vladimir Putin for allowing Russia to commit war crimes.
Addressing his remarks to Mr Putin directly, he said: “You are responsible for this war. You are guilty of war crimes. We are saying Stop the War. Stop playing games with people’s lives.
“We are saying it out front. There is no hiding place. We can’t play games with people’s lives.”
Mr Martin said the war was following previous patterns of Russian attacks where civilian areas were targeted, as happened in Chechnya and Syria.
He said the EU countries close to Russia were gravely concerned about where President Putin might go next.
“They don’t believe he will stop at Ukraine, hence their sense, and the EU sense, that a robust response has to be delivered by the EU in the form of very strong economic sanctions.”
He said wider sanctions would be formally discussed at a Council meeting at the end of March, which will see firmer measures being announced.
Turning to energy, he said the EU Commission may decide by the end of the month on the Government’s appeal for more flexibility over energy prices, something that would allow further reductions in VAT to consumers in Ireland.
Asked if he could envisage a need for the rationing of fuel, food or commodities, Mr Martin said he did not see it at this stage but added the war could get worse. He said there were already issues with food and commodities such as steel and paper.
Projected economic growth had already been adjusted downwards by half of one per cent.
In the discussion on defence it was agreed that Europe was behind in terms of security with gaps in its preparedness.
Mr Martin said there were also gaps in the capability of Irish Defence Forces, but that that has been apparent for some time. It applied to all three arms, he said: naval; air; and land.