Ursula Von der Leyen has likened Ukrainian freedom fighters to the IRA, appearing to draw a comparison between the UK and Putin’s Russia in a speech in Ireland. Her words have been condemned for endangering peace in northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.
The European Commission President told Irish MPs: “Today, I would like to dwell on five Irish virtues that will help our Union to face our common challenges ahead.
“First, the Irish passion for freedom. This country knows what it means to struggle for the right to exist.
“Today, another European nation is fighting for independence. Of course, Ireland is far away from the front line in Ukraine.
“But you understand better than most why this war matters so much to all of us. Just like our friends in Eastern Europe, you know that in Ukraine there is more at stake than the future of one country alone.
“Ukraine is fighting for freedom itself; for self-rule; for the rules-based global order. And Ireland has gone above and beyond in its support to Ukrainians.”
Her address came as the UK and EU continue to argue over the Northern Ireland protocol and European attempts to hive the province away from Britain.
Baroness Hoey, a former Labour Europe minister who comes from Northern Ireland and backed Brexit, said: “Her words show the clear EU bias for the Republic of Ireland and her ignorance about the Belfast /Good Friday Agreement.
“She may not have directly mentioned the IRA but she did not condemn terrorists who killed so many innocent Protestant and Catholic people in Northern Ireland all in the name of Irish freedom. How dare she equate their violence with the struggle of the Ukrainian people against Putin.”
Former Brexit minister David Jones warned that with Sinn Fein now the largest party in Northern Ireland and eyeing power in Dublin her words could be inflammatory.
He said: “It is extremely worrying that President Von Der Leyen should make such a statement, apparently without considering the potential consequences.
“The Belfast Good Friday agreement was hard won. It has preserved the peace for almost 25 years. It would be easy to destabilise it.
“The last thing the people of Northern Ireland need is to hear unwise, provocative comments such as this.
“She really ought to know better.”
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The US’s former ambassador to the United Nations (UN) has this week criticised Joe Biden’s administration for siding with the EU in the row and said it was based on a poor reading of the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “I think the widespread belief in the Democratic Party this dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol impedes the Good Friday Agreement.
“My view is that the exact opposite is true that the Northern Ireland Protocol is what is interfering with the Good Friday Agreement.
“The idea that somehow all the protections the EU would have with its members would be ruined if there was an open border in Ireland is completely wrong.”