Fine Gael European Affairs spokesman Deputy Neale Richmond retweeted a message issued after the French presidential election result that read: “Sympathies to Vladimir Putin on the defeat of his candidate. Chin up Vlad. You still have @BorisJohnson and @ViktorOrban.”
The reference concerns the defeat of Marine Le Pen at the hands of Emmanuel Macron in the second round of voting on Sunday to elect the next president of France.
Ms Le Pen has come under frequent criticism for her long-standing ties with Mr Putin including posing for a photograph with the Russian president during her previous bid to lead France in 2017.
DUP MP Gavin Robinson last night challenged Mr Richmond to withdraw his support for what he branded “a disgraceful tweet”.
Mr Robinson said: “This is a disgraceful slur especially when we consider the UK contribution to defending Ukraine.
“To date the UK has provided more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems with more than 100 missiles, 1,360 anti-structure munitions and 4.5 tonnes of explosives.”
The East Belfast MP, who sits on the Defence Committee at Westminster, continued: “On March 9 the government announced that the UK would supply Starstreak high velocity anti-air missiles as well as more recently supplying 120 armoured vehicles, sourcing anti-ship missile systems, and high-tech loitering munitions for precision strikes. Many of the munitions are manufactured in Belfast.”
He called on Mr Richmond to stop “endorsing such anti-British sentiments” on Twitter.
It is understood that Mr Richmond’s endorsement of the tweet has not gone unnoticed in government departments in London.
The News Letter made repeated attempts to contact the Dail deputy in order to ask if he actually believed Mr Johnson was a “candidate” of President Putin and if he believed that the tweet was inappropriate given the material military support the prime minister and his government have supplied to the Ukrainians. As of yesterday evening Mr Richmond had not responded to our questions.
Earlier this month Mr Richmond issued a demand that the Garda Siochana provide surplus supplies to the Ukrainian military such as helmets and flak jackets.
His call came after the PSNI sent 300 ballistic vests and 50 ballistic helmets after receiving a request for material from the UK’s National Police Coordination Centre.
Demanding that the Garda follow the PSNI’s lead, Mr Richmond said: “An attack on any European country is an attack on us and we must continue to help in any and every way possible.”
Gardai had already supplied nine vans full of medicines and generators which were delivered to an orphanage and two hospitals in Ukraine following requests from the Ukrainian Embassy in Dublin.
The Republic’s long-standing policy of neutrality means that the Irish Defence Forces are constitutionally barred from sending military support to the Ukrainian army fighting Mr Putin’s invading Russian forces.
Earlier this month Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney visited the Ukraine capital Kyiv and told his Ukrainian counterpart that “even though Ireland is a militarily neutral country, let me be clear, we are not neutral on this war. We are also not neutral on the future of your country”.
The Republic has provided €20 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees in neighbouring countries.
During his visit Mr Coveney was protected by Garda officers rather than members of the Irish Defence Force elite Army Ranger Wing raising questions in Dublin if the troops were not sent to guard him because this might breach Irish neutrality.
One of the British-supplied weapons the Ukrainian army has used effectively to destroy Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers is the NLAW missile which is shoulder held like a bazooka and fired by one soldier. It is manufactured for the Ministry of Defence by the French weapons firm Thales which has production facilities in Belfast.
The UK has also sent the Ukrainian military the Starstreak anti-aircraft missile system which is also manufactured on the former Shorts Missile Systems plant.