Security for Irish diplomats in danger zones to be intensified

State invites tender for safety and protection role from global private security firms

Irish Army Rangers on patrol in Chad in 2008. File photograph: Conor Lally.

Irish Army Rangers on patrol in Chad in 2008. File photograph: Conor Lally.

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs is to hire a private security company to help protect its diplomatic staff serving in unstable regions and to evacuate them in emergencies.

The department is seeking a global security company with a network of contacts in “fragile and conflict-affected states”. The company would be responsible for organising armed security for diplomats as well as advising them of any threats in the region.

According to a request for tender from the department, the contractor itself may also be required to offer bodyguard services, armoured transportation, vehicle tracking and route planning for diplomatic staff.

It will also advise on security requirements for VIP visits such as from Irish Ministers and help draft specific security arrangements during high-risk events in unstable countries such as during elections.

This is the first time the department has sought to centrally organise security arrangements for its staff in high-risk areas. Typically individual embassies or consulates are responsible for arranging their own protection from local companies.

Diplomatic network

The move comes as the department expands its diplomatic network and steps up Ireland’s campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

There are currently 455 department staff serving abroad, as well as 550 of their family members.

Ireland operates embassies, consulates and offices in several regions with a recent history of instability including Freetown in Sierra Leone and Ramallah in Palestine. Staff also make frequent trips to active conflict zones including South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Syria.

Ireland lacks a dedicated diplomatic protection agency. Although gardaí and military officers are sometimes posted to embassies, they are there as liaisons, not in a security role.

The elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW) sometimes deploys before and during VIP visits to serve in reconnaissance and close protection roles. Although such missions can last for weeks at a time, the ARW is never posted on a permanent basis.

The department also receives briefings on potential trouble spots from the Directorate of Military Intelligence, also known as J2.

‘Heat’ training

And diplomatic staff going abroad must attend a twice-yearly Defence Forces-run course in the Curragh known as Hostile Environment Awareness Training (Heat) which teaches staff how to act at checkpoints, what to do in hostage situations and how to administer basic medical treatment.

According to the department spokeswoman, the contractor will not replace any of the roles currently carried out by the Defence Forces.

The contract, which is worth a total of €450,000 a year, requires the company to provide security and medical advice to staff.

“It is essential that the service provider can provide up-to-date advice and assistance on security issues at short notice and on a 24/7 basis.

“Where there are specific spikes in risk such as VIP visits or key events such as elections, the service provider may be asked to provide bespoke security assessments of certain locations and/or to advise on the development of security travel plans for individual locations worldwide,” the request for tender states.

“The service provider should have well-developed networks of vetted local service providers, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states, capable of providing logistics, security advice and assistance, medical advice and assistance, including evacuation at short notice as required.”

The company will also be required to provide an assessment of available medical services in under-developed regions and be able to arrange emergency medical evacuation for staff.