Ireland is not among the 14 EU States that decided to expel a total of 32 Russian diplomats in a co-ordinated move yesterday.
However, while not making any announcement, sources say the Government is expected to follow suit within 24 hours and announce it will also expel at least one Russian official based in Dublin.
In a quickly-developing sequence of events, the EU and US both announced yesterday afternoon they would expel a total of 80 Russian diplomats from both jurisdictions, and that a further 12 Russian officials would be deported from the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The moves follow the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in the UK earlier this month.
Assessment A spokesman for Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the assessment of alleged Russian activities in Ireland
– being conducted by a high-level group – was “ongoing”.
It is expected the Tánaiste will share his assessment at the weekly Cabinet meeting this morning. Shortly afterwards, he and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will indicate what sanction, if any, will be applied.
Sources said that given the Taoiseach's prominence in leading with this issue at the European Council in Brussels, it is highly likely at least one Russian diplomat will be expelled.
However, such expulsions do not require a formal cabinet decision and are executive decisions made by the taoiseach of the day, on the recommendation of the minister for foreign affairs.
“If we expel one or even two, it would be pure symbolism; we would be doing what other countries are doing,” said a source familiar with the Government’s thinking.
“If it is more than two, we would have a serious issue with what the Russians are doing here.”
Russia has historically been seen by Irish security sources as using Ireland as “a listening post” and “a back door” for operations in the UK because of the easy access into Britain due to the Common Travel Area.
The disproportionately large size of the Russian embassy for a country as small as Ireland with so few Russian nationals living here has also raised suspicions about its activities in Ireland.
“As an English-speaking country, Ireland is a great place to ‘blood’ young Russian intelligence operatives for future assignments in their bigger target countries,” said one source with a long security background.
These include “doing harmless ‘dummy runs’ here for future operations in say the US and the UK and ‘dead drops’ for handovers of sensitive material to and from their informants, for example,” he said.
“All this type of ‘match practice’ by our Russian friends has been monitored by our security services over the years,” said the source.
There have been two such expulsions in recent years, both involving the use of forged Irish passports.
In 2010, an Israeli diplomat was expelled over the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of a Hamas member in Dubai. The following year a diplomat at the Russian embassy in Dublin was told to leave the country, following the results of a Garda investigation into the use of false Irish passports by Russian spies based in the US.