Diplomatic row breaks out over building plans
A major diplomatic row has broken out between the Irish Government and Russia over Kremlin plans to significantly expand their embassy campus in South Co Dublin.
The Irish Independent can reveal the Government quietly invoked special planning powers for the first time to withdraw permission from the embassy to build a three-storey extension to their Irish headquarters in Rathgar.
Yesterday, however, Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov said the move was "groundless, senseless and unacceptable", and is not being accepted by his government.
On March 4, days before the country went into Covid lockdown, former Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signed an order revoking planning permission given to the embassy for new buildings and an underground basement.
The decision followed security briefings received by ministers about the development in Rathgar where a major expansion of the premises is being planned.
The order was uploaded on the digital version of the Irish Statute book during the lockdown on April 3. However, there was no publicity around the decision, which was taken following a brief Cabinet discussion in March.
There are security concerns about a number of flights coming into Ireland from Russia which are believed to have contained suspicious materials for the embassy.
Mr Filatov said there have been no flights with suspicious materials coming from Russia and said anyone suggesting this is "grossly incompetent" or has a "hidden agenda".
In the document, Mr Murphy said he was "satisfied" that the development "is likely to be harmful to the security and defence of the State and the State's relations with other states". He added that the modification of the planning permission given to the embassy is "necessary in the public interest".
The order withdraws planning permission from the embassy for a new three-storey development which would be attached to the existing building.
The new structure, which would also have a basement, was due to be built in three blocks extending into the back of the embassy's grounds.
When contacted yesterday about the planning order, Ambassador Filatov invited the Irish Independent to the embassy for a tour of the new development.
The Ambassador led this writer around the grounds highlighting ongoing construction work on a new consular building at the front of the embassy, which he said will be used to process passports and visas.
He said we could not enter the building, for health and safety reasons.
To the rear of the existing embassy two blocks of apartments are under construction, which will house embassy staff who are currently living in rented accommodation in Dublin. The Ambassador said "there will be no bunkers" but "there will be underground parking" in front of the apartment complexes.
Asked why parking needed to be underground, Mr Filatov said he was against it as it is costly. "But it has been adopted by the government by order and we can't do the whole thing all over again," he said.
Mr Filatov said the buildings which are the subject of the Government order will be used for offices, living quarters along with a recreational room and sauna.
He said there are no plans to create a European hub for cyber attacks or spying.
Mr Filatov said he has been in contact with Irish officials on the matter.
In a statement provided after the tour, the embassy said they are aware of the planning order which they believe is "groundless, senseless and unacceptable".
"On top of all that, it is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention, in particular Article 25 which states that the receiving state shall accord full facilities for performance of their functions on the mission," it said.
The embassy said the Irish Government is aware of their "disposition to resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue".
"There is nothing in the project that could be even remotely linked to the issues of security, particularly to 'the security and defence of the (Irish) State,'" they said.
"It is equally difficult to envisage in what way the more comfortable Embassy's offices and its living quarters could be harmful to 'the (Irish) State's relations with other states."
If there is a breach of the planning order, the responsibility for taking action will lie with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council as the Housing Minister cannot comment or get involved in planning disputes.