A Dáil Deputy who has travelled to the border between Poland and the Ukraine in recent days has called for the Irish Government to establish an immediate presence there.
Cathal Berry, an Independent TD for Kildare South and a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs returned at the weekend from on a two-day visit to the Ukrainian border. The Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell travelled with him.
Mr Berry said he was very impressed with the manner in which the crisis was being handled by the Polish authorities and by voluntary organisations but said he believed personnel from the Irish State were also needed there to report back to the Government, and also to aid Irish citizens and refugees who may wish to travel to Ireland.
He said that a small number of members of the Rapid Response Corps within the Department of Foreign Affairs (which deploys quickly at times of humanitarian crisis) could be redeployed to the border.
“We definitely need an Irish presence at the border. It could be very small, just a few people from the Rapid Response Corps.
“They could hire a car and move around, move up to the border, and back to the processing centre, having a liaison function primarily.
“They can be used as direct contacts by Ministers or senior civil servants. It’s very important that accurate information and up-to-minute information is being sent back to Dublin because that is the basis of making good decisions.”
He said there was a need for a constant – albeit very small – “speedy presence there on the ground”.
Mr Berry, a medical doctor and former army officer, travelled to Medkyka, one of the main border crossings into Poland, and also visited the nearby town of Przemysl, where a former Tesco supermarket has been converted into a processing centre for the many thousands of refugees crossing the border.
He said he and Mr Craughwell were struck by how calm and smooth it was. “The Poles have it all very well under control. There is a constant stream coming across the border but no sense of panic there.”
He added: “The big takeaway from me is that most of the refugees want to stay in Poland.
“They want to stay local, wait for a ceasefire and go back home.
“They are not that keen to go further into the EU at all. They may want to go to Germany because it’s closer and a rich country. Poland is their preference and going to Germany is the next best thing.”
He said he himself heard no sound of artillery and saw no contrails from fighter jets in the skies, suggesting aircraft were avoiding the area, as there was extensive anti-aircraft defences located in eastern Poland.
His prediction was the situation would continue to deteriorate.
“The siege of Kiev will start shortly and probably involve a lot of shelling, which will also lead to many more refugees leaving the. City.
“Putin wants to drive as many refugees as possible to Europe because he knows it has the potential to destabilise. He has turned refugees into weapons basically,” he said.
From the medical perspective, Mr Berry said he had spoken to doctors in the hospital in Lviv in Ukraine and was informed the biggest medical shortages in Ukraine at present were CAT tourniquets (used to stem the loss of blood in a combat situation) as well as emergency medical kits that are deployed on the battlefield.