Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has been warned that the department’s resources would be seriously strained to provide adequate consular assistance to Irish people travelling abroad, if two overseas incidents happened simultaneously.
In briefing documents prepared for Mr Coveney, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs also said to expect that more Irish people would be caught up in terrorist attacks, while abroad, in future.
“If we are faced with two or more high-priority cases concurrently, and/or a combination of simultaneous major crisis incident(s), the Department would be very seriously challenged to continue to provide the current level of service to our citizens,” the minister was told.
Officials advised Mr Coveney that terrorist attacks required sustained follow-up by staff, as well as short-term “surge capacity”.
Concern about the ability of the Department of Foreign Affairs to respond adequately to two major, simultaneous international incidents involving Irish citizens was voiced, notwithstanding the fact that the department said that all of its 72 embassies and consulates had robust crisis-response plans and key frontline staff trained in crisis management.
Officials said they were experiencing significant increases in the demands for all forms of consular assistance from Irish people abroad, especially in cases involving sudden death, arrest, and imprisonment, child abduction, and mental ill-health.
Last year, embassy and consular staff responded to 3,000 cases of Irish people abroad who experienced some serious difficulty.
Officials said cases were also becoming more complex and were involving issues of dual nationality and international legal questions.
The briefing documents said recent events in London and Manchester had again highlighted the growing risk of Irish citizens getting caught up in terrorist attacks and the importance of “consular preparedness”. “In a sense, our ‘frontline’ is overseas, with more Irish citizens travelling more frequently in an increasingly unsafe global environment,” officials said.
Department of Foreign Affairs staff have already assisted Irish people abroad who got caught up in eight separate terrorist incidents during 2017.
They included three incidents in Britain, and one each in Stockholm, St Petersburg, Paris, Istanbul, and Indonesia.
Officials pointed out that three Irish citizens were killed in a terrorist attack in Tunisia in 2015, while others have been injured in similar incidents in the past two years in London, Brussels, and Paris.
“We have to be prepared for the likelihood of more Irish casualties in terror incidents abroad in the short-term,” the minister was told.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said that it had taken steps to improve its communication with Irish citizens, and to ensure they were better-informed, via enhanced travel and security advice, including the introduction of an award-winning travel app, TravelWise.