Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin has defended Ireland’s secret Cold War era agreement – to combat any threat from what was the Soviet Union – which allows Britain’s RAF to patrol Irish airspace.

He also stressed that Ireland’s own Defence Forces monitored Russian ship movements off the south coast last week.

And he described Russian Ambassador Yury Filatov’s comments on the death of Irishman Finbar Cafferkey who died when fighting against the illegal invasion of Ukraine as a “distortion” and “unacceptable."

Martin was speaking in Cork on Monday, May 8 after The Irish Times exclusively revealed a secret arrangement dating back to the Cold War era allowing the UK to police Ireland’s airspace. The deal permitted RAF aircraft to intercept hostile aircraft in Irish airspace in the knowledge that the Defence Forces had almost no ability to monitor or intercept long-range strategic bombers

Martin was asked about the disclosures in the Times. He refused to comment on national security issues but told the paper, “Anything we do is fully consistent with Irish sovereign decision-making and fully consistent with Irish military neutrality.”

Martin also played down the presence of Russian military ships off the Irish coast, saying he did not believe they posed a threat to Irish security.

He said the government was aware of the presence of the Russian frigate, Admiral Grigorovich, and the tanker Kama and two other vessels after they entered Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone last week, and the Department of Defence “and others” were continuing to carefully monitor their presence.

Martin also took issue with comments from the Russian Embassy regarding a tribute he paid to Finbar Cafferkey from Achill Island who was killed when fighting with Ukrainian forces.

His comment that Cafferkey was a man of clear principles sparked an angry response from the Russian Embassy which said it did not know if Martin’s remarks signified support for the Irish to take part in combat in Ukraine, but if it was the case “then Ireland would be the direct participant of the conflict with all the ensuing consequences.”

Martin said, “I think the Russian ambassador, in my view, should not have commented. I think as we have said, his comments were a distortion and were unacceptable and in my view were not reflective of my position or the country’s position more generally.”

Meanwhile, controversy has arisen over the sight of some symbols supporting the Russian war in Ukraine at a Victory Day rally at Naas Racecourse on Sunday to commemorate the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Times reported that members of the Ukrainian community in Ireland have written to the racecourse management seeking information on why it was used for the event when cars driven to it had Russian flags and the black and orange ribbon of St. George which Ukrainians regarded as support for the war in their country. One woman was seen with a T-shirt bearing the letter “Z,” a symbol of support for the war.

Naas Racecourse general manager Eamonn McEvoy told the paper he understood the negative reaction of a number of people given the invasion and the continuing war in Ukraine.

McEvoy added, “Naas Racecourse was inadvertently drawn into highly sensitive geopolitical events and for that I would like to apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”

Full statement in relation to recent events at Naas Racecourse below. pic.twitter.com/T8OODBZOGh

— Naas Racecourse (@NaasRacecourse) May 8, 2023

*This column first appeared in the May 10 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.