State to conduct assessment of staff at Russian embassy

Expulsions among possible actions in wake of briefings from Garda and security services

The Government has concerns about certain personnel at the Russian embassy in Dublin and will consider expulsions or other actions after receiving security briefings from the Garda and security services.

In an act of solidarity with the British expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats over the attempted poisoning of a former Russian spy, the Government has decided to conduct a security assessment to consider similar expulsions from Dublin as part of an EU-wide response.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government will weigh up the impact of possible retaliation on Ireland's small embassy in Moscow when it considers whether to expel Russian diplomats over the Salisbury attack.

"Of course we have to take that into account but we have to balance that with our absolute wish to demonstrate solidarity with the United Kingdom, " he said.

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There are about 10 staff at the Irish Embassy in Moscow, led by Ambassador Adrian McDaid. They include officials from the Department of Justice working in the visa section and an Enterprise Ireland staff member.

We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats

At the European Council summit in Brussels, Mr Varadkar joined other EU leaders in echoing UK prime minister Theresa May's view that it was "highly likely" that Russia was responsible for the nerve-agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia earlier this month.

‘Unfriendly act’

The Taoiseach said the Government would make a decision on potential actions against staff at the Russian embassy on Orwell Road in Rathgar, south Dublin "in the early part of next week".

Asked about the view of the Russian ambassador in Dublin, Yury Filatov, that expulsions would constitute an “unfriendly act”, Mr Varadkar responded: “If an unfriendly act is perpetrated on one European country, other European countries will stand together and stand by our allies, and that’s what we would expect for us and it’s what we will do for other countries.”

European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU had recalled its ambassador from Moscow and flagged expulsions by other EU states, saying that "more steps are expected at a national level" starting on Monday.

Leaders discussed the issue for three to four hours, including whether to extend time limits on EU sanctions against Russia

“Different countries are going to take different actions in the next couple of weeks,” Mr Varadkar said at a press conference in Brussels at the end of the summit. “Each country will make that decision for themselves.”

Intelligence agents

The Taoiseach said the Government's security assessment involving his own department and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice would look at Russian diplomats and their activities in Ireland to examine whether they were working covertly as intelligence agents. "We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats," he said.

Mr Varadkar said that, at a dinner on Thursday night, he and French president Emmanuel Macron pushed other EU leaders to harden their response to the Salisbury attack beyond just expressing concern about it.

Leaders discussed the issue for three to four hours, including whether to extend time limits on EU sanctions against Russia and to add to a list of Russians censured with asset freezes and travel bans.

The Taoiseach said there was “no serious suggestion” that countries might boycott this summer’s World Cup in Russia over the incident, noting that it would have “different impacts” given that not all EU countries had qualified.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times