Coveney: Ireland has raised concerns with Russia over live ammunition drills off Irish coast

Coveney: Ireland has raised concerns with Russia over live ammunition drills off Irish coast

Ireland's foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney,  is to speak directly to the Russian Ambassador about the plans to conduct the drill

The Government is “not happy” and is “concerned” that Russia is planning to conduct live ammunition drills off the south coast of Ireland.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the Department of Foreign Affairs "has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities in respect of these exercises" in a statement released this Sunday evening.

"As has been widely reported in the media, Russian naval exercises are due to take place in early February, approximately 240 kilometres off the south west coast and within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but not in Ireland’s territorial waters," the statement reads. 

"Under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), states are entitled to carry out naval exercises in another state’s EEZ. 

"The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) was informed of the exercise via standard procedures and has issued a statement to that effect." 

Mr Coveney added in his statement that he expects Europe's security situation to "dominate" discussions when he meets with EU Foreign Ministers tomorrow in Brussels. 

"I expect our discussions to be dominated by the security situation in Europe, with a particular focus on Russia and Ukraine," he said.

"During these discussions, I will briefly inform my EU colleagues about the planned Russian naval exercises. More broadly, I will also reiterate our full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will call again on Russia to de-escalate tensions and engage constructively in dialogue."

The Department of Foreign Affairs are now recommending that Irish citizens avoid non-essential travel to the Ukraine. 

"We continue to recommend that Irish citizens living in or travelling to Ukraine register with the Embassy of Ireland in Kyiv," Mr Coveney said.

Earlier it was revealed that the Irish Aviation Authority has sent a notification to air traffic control to close a part of Irish airspace for a few days in February. However, it has said the ammunition drills will cause no disruption to Irish aviation.

Junior OPW minister Patrick O’Donovan said Mr Coveney is to raise his concerns with Russia in the coming days.

He said that while the drills are due to take place 240kms off the Cork coast, they will not be in Irish waters.

“I spoke to the minister of foreign affairs about this and, the Department of Foreign Affairs has raised this with the Russian Embassy in Ireland," Mr O'Donovan said. 

"He's going to speak directly to the Russian embassy and the Russian ambassador himself. He's not happy about this.”

These are not southern Irish waters. They're called the exclusive economic zone. 

"And it wouldn't be unusual for naval vessels from other countries to give notice to Civil Aviation Authority in this case, the Irish Aviation Authority,” he added.

He said there's a meeting of European and foreign ministers taking place on Monday. 

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the reasons countries are looking to conduct these exercises so close to Ireland is because of the weakness in our primary radar defences.

“This was pointed out in fairness in a government white paper seven years ago and it said that this was a priority but still hasn't happened," Mr Doherty said. 

"So therefore we have an overstretched Defence Forces already. They will be farther stretched. 

"We need to make sure that the necessary investments are there so that we're not at the back of the class when it comes to being able to monitor what is happening,” he said.

Labour TD Ivana Bacik said the development is “very alarming”. She said Russia has used bullying tactics:

Look at Ukraine, look at Belarus, look at Georgia, look at Russian intervention in Syria, appalling intervention, and I've been hugely critical of Russia over many years.

She said she would like to know if there is anything that can be done to stop it going ahead.

Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov and the Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy met to discuss armed contacts between the two countries.

The meeting took place on Friday at the Russian embassy in Orwell Road, Dublin.

“Parties discussed the issues of Russia-Ireland relations and international agenda, as well as prospects of contacts between (the) armed forces of (the) two countries," the Russian embassy said in a tweet.

In response, the Department of Defence said the meeting was a “routine courtesy call”.

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