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    Irish rescue effort in Libya highlights importance of consular protection

    By Noreen Bowden | February 27, 2011

    There has been some controversy over the rescue efforts to evacuate dozens of Irish people from Libya this week. Some complaints have appeared in the press that the Department of Foreign Affairs was slow to respond; a DFA spokesperson highlighted the difficulties of organising a rescue, telling,  “We don’t have an embassy in Libya and it’s a very difficult situation without being on the inside.?

    While Ireland did manage to rescue many people on the government jet, there were reports that some of the Irish in Libya were distressed by what they perceived as an initial attitude of unresponsiveness. The Irish Examiner reported:

    The department’s response to the situation has been heavily criticised by a number of Irish who fled from the Libyan crisis, with some saying they were advised to book flights online, use their common sense, or travel to tourist agencies to obtain tickets out of the chaos. This was despite those who fled the country insisting the internet had been blocked and it was unsafe to travel to tourist agencies.

    Several press reports noted some Irish people left on flights arranged by Britain’s Foreign Office. The Irish Independent quotes one such person, Claire Walsh, a 30-year-old from Kildare working as a teacher in Tripoli:

    We decided to help ourselves rather than rely of the Department of Foreign Affairs. What really annoyed me at the airport was that I saw Italians, Ukrainian and Japanese representatives walking around with their countries’ flags trying to find their own nationals. Surely if there were good government relations between Ireland and the Italians that somebody could have told them to help us. Instead, we got ourselves out.

    Most of the press reports have failed to mention that European nationals are entitled to consular protection from other EU nations if there is no consulate from their home nation in a third country. In other words, if there is no Irish consulate and an Irish national needs assistance, he or she should be able to attain it from consular officials of any EU nation in that country. This is a result of an EU law introduced in 1995; I’ve pasted in text explaining the law below.

    Another point that should be kept in mind is the relevance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and consular services to the debate on emigrant voting. Overseas citizens may at some point find their lives relying on Irish consular protection. Yet they have no way of holding the Irish government accountable on this. It’s just one of a number of issues that Irish people at home have no reason to consider, but which can have definite impact on the lives of the Irish abroad.

    Information on EU consular protection rights from the website:

    What is the right to consular protection for EU citizens?

    Every citizen of the European Union who is in a country outside the EU, in which the Member State of which he/she is a national is not represented, is entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State represented there. EU citizens are entitled to protection on the same conditions as the nationals of that State.

    In 1995 Decision 95/553/EC was adopted by the representatives of the governments of the Member States to implement this entitlement.

    What kind of assistance is provided?

    When an EU citizen seeks such help, he or she must produce a passport or identity card as proof of nationality. If these documents have been stolen or lost, the embassy may accept any other proof.

    Diplomatic and consular representations giving protection have to treat a person seeking help as if he/she were a national of the Member State they represent.

    The protection offered by embassies/consulates of other EU States comprises:

    • assistance in cases of death,
    • assistance in cases of serious accident or illness,
    • assistance in cases of arrest or detention,
    • assistance to victims of violent crime,
    • the relief and repatriation of distressed Union citizens.

    The EU will publish a Communication on consular protection next month, and will also be launching a website to increase public awareness of the issue.

    For more information on Irish rescue attempts see the Irish Independent: “Evacuees return with tales of woe.

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