Ireland ‘scrutinising’ Russian diplomats’ visa applications amid spying concerns

Taoiseach says 15 diplomats ‘should be adequate’ for Russia’s needs in Ireland amid concerns about espionage at Dublin embassy

Ireland is “scrutinising” every new application from Russian diplomats coming here amid concerns about espionage, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin was responding to a recent report in The Irish Times that Ireland is refusing to grant new diplomatic visas to Russia officials in an effort to reduce the size of its Dublin embassy due to concerns about spying.

As a result, the number of diplomats and administrative staff in the sprawling embassy on Orwell Road had fallen by half, from a high of 30, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Shortly after the invasion, Ireland expelled four diplomats for engaging in espionage. Since then, it has attempted to reduce the number further by freezing visa applications from incoming officials, drawing the ire of the Russian embassy which complains they are severely understaffed.


“As you know, we took steps as a Government to reduce significantly the number of people [in the embassy], particularly those who were advised were not actually diplomats but were performing intelligence functions,” Mr Martin said in an interview with The Irish Times on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“So, the embassy is much, much reduced. I think it’s down to 15 now because of the actions we have taken.”

The Tánaiste said Ireland “scrutinises” each new visa application from Russian diplomats and that Russia does the same to Irish officials.

“So, there is a degree of toing and froing on these issues. There hasn’t been much movement either way since.”

He said the Government had no issue with Russian diplomacy but that “when we are advised by our intelligence services that other activities are under way, we take steps to make sure that’s not happening”.

Mr Martin was attending the prestigious security conference alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, making the first time an Irish head of Government has taken part in the event in its 60-year history.

Asked about the embassy, Mr Varadkar said he believed 15 diplomats “should be adequate for [Russia’s] needs here.”

On Saturday, the Taoiseach took part in a debate on neutrality alongside leaders from Austria, Malta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He rejected the claim that Ireland is freeloading on others for its defence and that it relies on the UK military for security.

“We have our own navy, though it’s not as strong as it needs to be, and we’ve entered into agreements with Pesco [the EU Permanent Structured Cooperation defence structure] and NATO’s Partnership for Peace which relate to the cables that are around the island which are important to us and important to our neighbours.”

Security goes beyond military spending, Mr Varadkar said. He said Ireland is one of few countries whose international aid budget is bigger than the defence budget.

This is done to increase security, he said.

“Because if we can start to remove some of those underlying causes of conflict in the world, we could have a much safer place and a much better place. Then perhaps there wouldn’t be such a need for everyone to be so well armed.”

The Taoiseach said he finds to difficult to envisage a scenario where Ireland would give up its neutrality, aside from an invasion or terrorist attack by another country.

“Often, it’s our neutrality that protects us. We don’t have many enemies; we have lots of friends. That’s not a coincidence.”

He said Ireland would be willing to be part of any peace process between Russia and Ukraine to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“But I need to be very clear, should there be any peace process, we have to be guided by president [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government on how and when that should take place.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times