Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
50. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if private security firms have been appointed to secure Irish embassies and diplomats in unstable regions abroad; if so, the cost of such arrangements; if they provide armed protection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24517/21]
Have private security firms have been appointed to secure Irish embassies and diplomats in unstable regions abroad? If so, what is the cost of such arrangements, do they provide armed protection and will the Minister make a statement on the matter?
The safety and security of our staff and their families is a fundamental priority of my Department. My Department promotes best practice in managing the security of our people, material assets and premises through workplace security design, review, awareness-raising and training in consultation with the State’s security experts.
Ireland has 90 missions abroad, some of which are located in states where there is a moderate to high level of personal security threat. The host state is under a special duty under international law to protect the premises of diplomatic missions. Like other foreign ministries, we supplement those protections with private security services according to our local risk assessments and in accordance with procurement rules. In 2020, my Department invested €1.16 million on security services at our diplomatic missions abroad which operate in such environments.
Staff of my Department may need to travel to locations with high risks to personal security, often in countries where Ireland does not have a permanent mission. Such travel will only be authorised after it has been risk assessed and appropriate mitigations are in place, including armoured and armed protection where necessary. For such travel, security is usually provided by the host state, a hosting mission, the EU delegation or a host international organisation, such as the UN or OSCE. Where the host does not provide close protection, my Department may choose to avail of the services of a vetted local private security provider familiar with the local threat environment on a case-by-case basis.
My Department enjoys a close working relationship with the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána on security matters. We have called on the assistance of the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána under the emergency civil assistance team initiative for mission security-related projects. We look forward to deepening our relationships in the years ahead as we continue to assure the security of our people.
I thank the Minister for that very useful response. More than €1 million seems like quite a large outlay for such a bespoke service. Has any consideration been given to resourcing and tasking the Defence Forces to provide such a service on a more permanent basis rather than just on an ad hocbasis? I ask that for a number of reasons. First, Irish embassies overseas are sovereign Irish territory and many other countries use their militaries, even in Dublin, to secure their embassies. Given we do not have a dedicated diplomatic protection agency and the fact we are looking to increase our diplomatic footprint overseas, what are the Minister's thoughts on that? Would he consider resourcing and tasking the Defence Forces on a more standing arrangement?
The Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces contribute significantly to the security of our people abroad and I am certain this support will continue and potentially even broaden.
An Garda Síochána supported seven on-site mission security reviews in 2019 and three in early 2020, two in Africa. Members of the Defence Forces supported two complex projects at three missions over 2019.
I hope we can soon resume the cycle of monitoring to enhance the security of our network. The Defence Forces UN training school at the Curragh provides invaluable personal security training to around 100 members of my Department's staff going on posting each year. It is regarded by many as the high point of what is quite an arduous pre-posting training programme and really gives our diplomats pride in the history and capacity of our Defence Forces.
My Department co-operates under the emergency civil assistance team initiative, which provides support to our missions in consular emergencies and emergency planning as well as in the security of our missions. For operational reasons, I cannot disclose in detail the services and supports provided. Given his background and knowledge around security issues, the Deputy will understand that there will be appropriate occasions when we work with An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and that there will sometimes be temporary use needed, whether it is for travel or for security or short-term security requirements where it is more appropriate to source local private security firms.
I thank the Minister. Again, that was a very useful response. My point is just to encourage the use of the Defence Forces, these State assets we have, when appropriate. Many of the tasks the Minister listed would be well within the Defence Forces' comfort zone, for instance, armoured protection, bodyguard services, medical support and, crucially, critical communications as well. The Defence Forces have the skill set, tools and talent. If they were resourced and tasked accordingly, they would bring much value to our diplomatic missions overseas.
As I said, they are part of the training programme, part of providing services and advice and assessments at times. Right now, the Department of Foreign Affairs is probably talking to the Department of Defence more than it has ever done, for the obvious reason that the same Minister is over both Departments. Therefore, where appropriate, we of course work together and there are some good examples of how we have done that. Recently, when there was an explosion in Beirut Port, the co-operation between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defence on delivering practical medical assistance to Beirut quickly, using the infrastructure of the Defence Forces and the diplomatic channels of the Department of Foreign Affairs together, proved to be very effective.
I maintain that not all security requirements across 90 different missions abroad are an appropriate setting for the Defence Forces and defence infrastructure but certainly, when and where appropriate, we will ensure both Departments work closely together.