Opportunity to get Irish citizens out of Afghanistan closed for now, Coveney says

DUP leader ‘concerned’ about people from Northern Ireland who remain in country

Items belonging to  people who were waiting to be evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan are outside the city’s airport after twin suicide bombs killed scores of people on Thursday. Photograph: Wakil Koshar/AFP via Getty Images

Items belonging to people who were waiting to be evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan are outside the city’s airport after twin suicide bombs killed scores of people on Thursday. Photograph: Wakil Koshar/AFP via Getty Images

 

The opportunity to get Irish citizens out of Kabul has effectively closed for now as the airport in the Afghan capital is in the process of shutting down, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

“We stayed as long as we safely could,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland on Friday.

Mr Coveney defended the rescue plan implemented this week by the team of Irish Army Rangers and diplomats who flew into Kabul for 48 hours to coordinate the extraction of Irish citizens and their dependents.

The Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) facilitated the evacuation of 26 Irish citizens from Kabul Airport during the mission, which started on Tuesday morning and finished just after 3pm on Thursday when the last of the team departed by air.

Last to leave on Thursday were a diplomat and two soldiers who had stayed to escort the 15 Irish citizens on a Finnish flight out of the country. It departed minutes after two suicide bombs killed and injured dozens outside the airport gates.

The Government has pledged to continue working remotely to ensure that 75 Irish citizens and residents who remain stranded in Afghanistan do eventually get out of the country safely. Those still in Kabul have now been advised not to come to the airport due to the worsening security situation there.

“We will be working with all of those who want to leave Afghanistan to help them find ways of doing that,” he said. “The truth is, this is going to be an effort that many, many, many countries are involved in. It will be an international community effort to ensure that foreign nationals who are in Afghanistan who want to get out will be facilitated in doing that.”

Northern Irish abroad

Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he is “concerned” about a number of people from Northern Ireland who remain in Afghanistan.

The families of the citizens, who work for humanitarian organisations, are “so anxious and distressed”, he said, as Britain moved into the final stages of its evacuation mission and Ireland pulled out.

Mr Donaldson said he was seeking “clarity” from London’s Foreign Office and Home Office on Friday about British citizens yet to flee Kabul.

“That includes some Northern Ireland citizens, whose cases I’ve been dealing with through the Home Office and the Foreign office,” he said.

“I hope by now they are in the airport compound and will be transported home, but those are matters we need to clarify.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, the Lagan Valley MP said: “I just hope that a way can be found to help those people be evacuated.

“Some of them work for NGOs, for charities, who have been doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

“I just don’t know what attitude the Taliban will take to such organisations now.”

Describing the attack on Kabul airport as “absolutely devastating”, Mr Donaldson said thoughts are with the families “here at home who are so anxious and distressed at what they are seeing on their TV screens and deeply worried about their loved ones.”

“I did send a message to the (British) prime minister (Boris Johnson) last night saying that I hoped the UK Government would complete the evacuation of our UK citizens including those from Northern Ireland who remain in Kabul,” he added. “I want to get clarification today from the Foreign Office on whether we are leaving citizens behind and what that means.”

Mr Donaldson is meeting Taoiseach Micheal Martin in Dublin on Friday and said he would be raising the cases of a number of Irish citizens from the North who remain in Afghanistan.

Security council

Mr Coveney also reacted to queries about how appropriate it was to have Ireland on the UN Security Council when the country had to rely on other defence forces to rescue citizens.

“We’re doing a lot of good on the UN Security Council,” he said. Ireland will take the chair of the Council next week for the month of September.

There were “a million reasons” for Ireland to be at the top table, he added.

Mr Coveney, who is also Minister for Defence, said there were of course questions about resources of the Defence Forces and the State’s military capacity, but that these would be addressed in a review of the Defence Forces which is due to report in the next three months. The Government would then act on those recommendations, he said.