THE Irish exodus from strife-torn Libya continued yesterday as efforts were stepped up to get the country's citizens safely home.
Despite further criticism being heaped on the Department of Foreign Affairs over its evacuation plans, officials said that all of the Irish who had been waiting at Tripoli airport yesterday had left on flights provided by other countries as part of an EU-wide effort.
While 21 Irish remained in Tripoli, a further 12 Irish who were in Benghazi were all evacuated by sea yesterday; while three of the six citizens scattered around oil field camps in the desert were "part of on-going evacuation efforts".
"The remaining three have been advised to remain where they are. Efforts are continuing at EU level to arrange alternatives for them," said the department in a statement.
Its assurances came as friends of some of the Irish stranded in the desert expressed concerns for their safety and questioned how they would be able to travel distances of up to 1,000km to get to Tripoli or Benghazi.
Last night it was revealed that the emergency team sent to co-ordinate the Irish evacuation had been forced to leave for Malta. When the team arrived at Tripoli Airport wearing hi-vis jackets and sporting Tricolours, many of the Irish had already left in dribs and drabs on different EU-organised flights.
Ireland's ambassador to Rome, Patrick Hennessy, who was to have led the team into Tripoli, was forced instead to travel to Valetta in Malta after his flight to Libya was cancelled.
Meanwhile, a 25-seat Air Corps Casa continued to remain on standby in Malta, waiting for clearance to fly to Tripoli to help shuttle out any passengers needing to travel. A department spokesman said the plane remained ready to fly people out, whether those needing help were Irish or not.
Yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government was doing the best they could in "quite a chaotic situation".
"Obviously it's a very difficult situation, from our point of view we are doing everything possible to try and ensure that people are extricated from that situation as quickly as possible," he added.
Mr Cowen said they were trying to find people in authority who had the ability to deliver on the rights and entitlements of our citizens to leave Libya and they were making the resources available to do that.
As the rescue efforts continued, the last Irish teacher of her group to leave Tripoli said she had felt a "little abandoned" by the lack of Irish effort get her home safely. Claire Walsh (30), from Newbridge, Co Kildare, a teacher at the 700-pupil International School of Martyrs in Tripoli, had to endure a tense 26-hour wait at Tripoli airport before finally leaving with her boyfriend, Adam Brian from Aberdeen, on a flight arranged by Britain's Foreign Office.
"We decided to help ourselves rather than rely on the Department of Foreign Affairs," said Ms Walsh.
"What really annoyed me at the airport was that I saw Italian, 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."
A department spokesman said that the common-EU relief effort was available to all EU citizens in Libya who wanted to leave.