Irish tourists warned to stay indoors after more than 200 killed in Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka
- Almost 207 people killed in explosions
- Four hotels and three churches targeted
- Government declares curfew with immediate effect
- Irish citizens who need consular assistance advised to contact embassy in New Delhi on +91-114-9403-200
- 'Ireland strongly supports everyone's freedom of religion and belief' - Simon Coveney
IRISH tourists in Sri Lanka have been advised to stay indoors where possible after more than 200 people were killed in a series of bombings which ripped through churches and luxury hotels.
No Irish people have been confirmed among the dead but Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said three Britons and two people holding joint US and British nationalities were killed.
The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) is advising affected holidaymakers in the country to follow the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lankan local authorities and accommodation providers.
"Travellers are advised to stay indoors where possible and to avoid large gatherings. Travellers should be aware that travel restrictions and curfews are in place across the island causing disruptions to travel plans," a spokesperson for the ITAA said.
"If you are affected you should contact your tour operator or travel accommodation provider."
The association said that while the airport is still operating, there are increased security measures in place.
"Those intending to travel to Sri Lanka are advised to follow the directions of the Department of Foreign Affairs who are currently advising travellers to exercise a high degree of caution.
"The ITAA recommend that intending travellers maintain contact with their travel adviser and tour operator for travel updates."
The Department of Foreign Affairs said they are ready to provide consular assistance.
A DFA spokeswoman said: "The Department is aware of the situation in Sri Lanka and we are monitoring the situation closely.
"If you have concerns for Irish citizens in the region please contact the Department on 01 408 2000."
Irish people in the country who have been directly affected by the attacks, or for those who are concerned about family or friends who are caught up in the incidents in Sri Lanka, to contact the Irish Honorary Consulate in Colombo on +94 (11) 258 7895 or the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin on +353 (1) 408 2000.
Six nearly simultaneous explosions at churches and hotels killed scores of people in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.
Hours later, there were further explosions in Dehiwala and Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo.
The authorities said 207 were killed and 450 injured in the attacks, most of which were being blamed on suspected suicide bombers.
No one has taken responsibility for the killings, but officials say that eight suspects have been arrested.
The Easter attacks are the worst bloodshed Sri Lanka has seen since its brutal civil war ended a decade ago.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney condemned the attacks and said that Ireland stands with those affected.
"I am shocked at the appalling attacks on innocent civilians this morning in Sri Lanka. No political or other cause can justify or excuse the bombing of people at worship or simply going about their daily lives.
"I express my sympathy to the families of those who have been killed and my support to those who have been injured," the Tanaiste said.
"On behalf of the government of Ireland I also express our solidarity with the people and government of Sri Lanka at this tremendously difficult time.
"Ireland strongly supports everyone's freedom of religion and belief.
"Attacks such as those in Sri Lanka today and in Christchurch and elsewhere are a challenge to us all to do everything that we can to defend that right. Places of worship must be places of peace, free from fear."
President Michael D Higgins said that people's freedom to worship must be respected.
He said: "As President of Ireland I am sure that people in Ireland will have heard with great concern of the heavy loss of life that has happened at places of worship in Sri Lanka, at a time of religious significance.
"The right to the freedom of worship is a fundamental right.
"To the families of those who died and those who have been injured I send the sympathies and solidarity of the people of Ireland."
Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, said that today's attacks are a reminder of people being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
He said: "While many of us have come to take for granted the voice of peace at Christmas and the voice of hope at Easter, we are reminded starkly and tragically today that this is not the case for Christians in many parts of the world.
"These Christians are our sisters and brothers. We stand in solidarity with them and they with us. Together we are one family of the resurrection. In so many countries worldwide our fellow-Christians find themselves a minority that is targeted and persecuted.
"The news this morning of bomb blasts at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka comes to us at a time we have come to refer to as The Easter Weekend. There is no tomorrow, no Bank Holiday Monday, for those killed in the multiple bomb blasts in Sri Lanka. There is nothing but devastation and fear and injury for these people, these communities and for Sri Lankan society."
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr Charles McMullen, has called the events in Sri Lanka "a shocking and despicable terrorist act".
"In the peace and tranquility of Kilkenny, where I was speaking this morning, we remembered in our prayers our brothers and sisters in Christ who had been so brutally and tragically struck down in Sri Lanka, doing as we were - worshipping the risen Lord Jesus Christ and celebrating his life giving resurrection," he said.
"As I said in my Easter Message, many across the world will suffer opposition and persecution for their faith in Jesus, as he challenges evil where it rises. Today we stand in prayerful solidarity with them, as we remember in our prayers all who were murdered today in this shocking and despicable terrorist act."
While British Prime Minister Theresa May called the tragic attacks "appalling."
Mrs May noted: "The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time.
"We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear."
European Council President Donald Tusk said: "A tragic Easter in Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the families of those killed in the attacks on churches and hotels; and those still fighting for their lives."
With additional reporting from Reuters