Decision on possible Russian expulsions likely after security briefings

Government understood to have concerns over certain personnel in Russian embassy

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Irish government is to run a security assessment over Russian diplomats based in Ireland following the UK's decision to expel 23 Russian officials in the wake of the Salisbury attack. Video: EU Council

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will receive a security briefing early next week, after which a decision on whether to expel Russian diplomats in Dublin is likely.

Next week’s briefings from Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan will follow contacts between the Department of Justice and the Garda over the weekend.

Mr Coveney’s officials released a statement on Friday afternoon suggesting that the Government would make a decision on any expulsions next week.

“We will be considering next week whether it is appropriate for the Government to take additional measures in relation to the Russian embassy in Dublin in light of security considerations and in solidarity with the actions taken by the UK,” Mr Coveney said.

“Such actions are also under consideration by a large number of other EU member states. I will be discussing this with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice over the coming days.”

It is understood the Government has concerns about certain personnel in the Russian embassy in Dublin, and will consider expulsions or other actions after a series of security briefings from gardaí and security authorities.

The Irish Times understands that the Government currently believes there are “grounds for concern” about some of the staff at the Russian embassy, although a move to expel any Russians would be a very significant step, sources say.

Russian has currently 17 accredited diplomatic stuff at its embassy, which is located in a large compound near Rathgar in Dublin. There are also a number of additional Russian staff working in the embassy.

Concerns

Mr Varadkar said on Friday that a “security assessment” would be carried out on Russian diplomats who were currently working at the embassy. This would involve an assessment about whether they were using their diplomatic status as a cover for intelligence or other work.

It is understood that gardaí and Irish intelligence authorities have had concerns about some Russian staff for some time.

Mr Varadkar’s statement marked a hardening of his position from the previous evening when the expectation in Irish circles was that Dublin would await the results of an investigation into the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month.

Senior Government figures said it was the intention to await the results of the investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the attack before saying whether it believed Russia was responsible.

However, the Irish approach toughened following discussions over dinner on Thursday night amongst EU leaders, at which British prime minister Theresa May spoke about the result of British intelligence investigations into the events in Salisbury and the substance used.

Afterwards the EU heads of government adopted a statement declaring that it was “highly likely Russia is responsible” for the the Salisbury poisonings. Mr Varadkar said he and French president Emmanuel Macron had proposed a toughening of the language.

Foreign diplomats

Ireland has rarely expelled foreign diplomats, although the move would not be unprecedented. In 2011, a Russian diplomat was expelled after an investigation found that the country’s intelligence service used six stolen Irish identities as cover for spies operating in the US. Ireland opened the investigation after the US FBI broke up a Russian spy ring in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.

In 2010, an Israeli diplomat was expelled after it was reported that eight members of a Mossad hit team had travelled on fake Irish passports during an assassination in Dubai of a Hamas official.

However, there are concerns in the Department of Foreign Affairs about Russian retaliation if any diplomats are expelled from Dublin.