EU is united on sanctions imposed on Russia – Irish minister

Thomas Byrne said Ireland would support removing Russia from the Swift financial system, and the EU may return to that issue.

25 February 2022

An Irish Government minister has insisted there is EU unity over the latest package of sanctions set to hit Russia.

Thomas Byrne suggested on Friday that Ireland would have supported removing Russia from the Swift network, an international financial system.

He was speaking after EU leaders agreed a fresh set of sanctions against Russia, following an emergency summit in Brussels late on Thursday.

However, he played down disagreements with the EU and said the latest package of measures are the “broadest sanctions the European Union has ever imposed on anybody”.

Asked on RTE radio about the Ukrainian president’s claim that the country is being left to fight alone, Mr Byrne said the EU is not a military organisation.

“The European Union is not involved in military action in relation to Ukraine,” the minister said. “That’s just not simply something that could ever be envisaged.

“But the sanctions that have been put in place, and Ireland has been pushing for the widest possible sanctions, the sanctions that have been put in place are extremely broad.”

Mr Byrne confirmed that Ireland had backed calls for action in relation to Swift, but said the important thing is unity.

“Our priority as an Irish Government was to have unity around the table. That was very, very important.

“Having said that, we pushed and will continue to push for the broadest possible sanctions. So yes, the Irish Government has no difficulty whatsoever with the Swift system being sanctioned, and that’s something that we would support.”

He said it may be something the EU will return to in the future, as the war in Ukraine continues to rage.

Mr Byrne, who acknowledged a negative economic impact from the war is unavoidable, said the people of Ukraine need humanitarian support.

“They’re in an extremely difficult situation, very brave,” he said.

“But the Russian army, it’s just so much bigger, and they’re going to need a lot of help and we’re going to give that to them.”

Appearing on the same programme, British Ambassador to Ireland Paul Johnston said the EU had made a “good start” on sanctions.

He added that the UK “would hope very soon that there’ll be a consensus” on Swift.

Mr Johnston pledged sanctions announced by the UK Government to target Russian money in London will be a “full frontal assault on Russian companies and Russian individuals”.

He added: “The details of the legislation are being worked out at speed.”

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