The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said it is a priority for the Government to "to get Irish people out of Afghanistan who want to leave" and it was "working night and day" on the exit plan.

Speaking in Cork, Simon Coveney said he did not think that "anybody is convinced" by "messages from Taliban that leaders that this time it might be different".

"That is why so many people want to leave," Mr Coveney said.

"So the priority is to get Irish people out of Afghanistan who want to leave and get them home and we are working with EU partners to ensure that that can happen as soon as possible, and really as soon as the airport is operational in terms of planes landing and taking off."

Mr Coveney confirmed that 25 Irish citizens and eight dependants want to leave Afghanistan, and the embassy in Abu Dhabi was in regular contact with them.

He said that the Government was working with the UK, Germany France and other European countries, and that "a lot of work had been done in the past 24 hours" to secure places for Irish citizens onboard European military planes flying out of Kabul airport.

Mr Coveney said he understood that the situation at the airport was improving, but that flights were still not "landing and taking off regularly."

He described the situation as "fluid" and said that other potential challenges that remain.

"Of course they have to get to the airport and in order to do that they will have to travel through checks... that are controlled by the Taliban, so this is not straight forward," Mr Coveney said.

He also said that he expects that "in the coming days" the Irish Government "will be doing more" to help Afghan nationals.

The Government is "concerned about many Afghan nationals" who worked with NGOs and in EU embassies, the minister said.

In relation to the 150 people that Ireland from Afghanistan under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), Mr Coveney said that these places had been "more or less" filled already.

This is in addition the 45 humanitarian visas already offered to Afghan citizens who had been working with EU operations in the country.

"So there is a lot happening and in the coming days we will be doing more, but so far Ireland is one of the few countries that has actually announced numbers in terms of the number of people we are willing to take, but as I say in the coming days we may well do more than is currently in place," Mr Coveney said.


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The minister also said that Afghan citizens in Ireland who have been issued with deportation orders, or who are currently in the Direct Provision system, will not be deported back to Afghanistan.

Currently all deportation orders have been paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Irish Refugee Council, more than 200 Afghan citizens are living in the Direct Provision system.

Mr Coveney said that deportation was "not a risk for them".

"There is going to be no deportation back to Afghanistan, that's for sure" he said.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that it is prioritising international protection applications from Afghan nationals.

Meanwhile, an Independent TD has proposed an Irish-led strategic mission to help with the evacuation of Irish citizens from Afghanistan.

Kildare South TD Cathal Berry said that a small number of the Irish Army Ranger Wing should be put on the ground in Kabul airport to help secure the perimeter and to oversee the evacuation of Irish citizens from the country.

Mr Berry, a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing, said this could be "seamlessly done in a matter of 24 hours," as has happened in Mali where there are a dozen Irish Army Rangers embedded with a German military unit.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, he said that this could be replicated in Afghanistan by embedding an Irish unit to support the UK forces without engaging the triple-lock system given the precedent for sending special forces to Afghanistan without a Dáil resolution.

He said the "shambolic scene at the airport" in Kabul suggested that it is not sufficient to rely on the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi to oversee the rescue of Irish citizens without a State liaison on the ground at the airport.

However, Mr Coveney said that he did not think it was "realistic or necessary" to send the Defence Forces Army Ranger Wing to Afghanistan.

He said that "capacity" was not an issue in terms of repatriating Irish citizens, and that the Irish Government was working with countries who had long-range military aircraft that land in Kabul airport and transport large numbers of people back to Europe.

The challenge, he said, lay in the safe operation of Kabul airport.

"Of course we are relying on the US to provide a safe airport that can function, and they are working on that and making progress," he said.

"I would be hopeful that in the coming days we would see planes landing and taking off, with Irish citizens (on board), taking them home."

Stormont 'ready to do what it can' to help refugees

Northern Ireland's political leaders have said that the Stormont Executive stands ready to do what it can to help refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

In a statement, First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill acknowledged what they called a "developing refugee crisis".

Mr Givan said the pain and suffering in Afghanistan is "truly profound" and said there was a collective will across political parties to address the current situation.

"We are determined to work with our many partners across society and fellow administrations to offer what sanctuary we can," he said.

Ms O'Neill said the unfolding humanitarian and refugee crisis was distressing.

She said work is ongoing to determine what is required and what assistance the executive can offer.

"We will be an important part of the response which will involve organisations at all levels, from the community grass roots right up to global agencies and governments.

"We are offering to help however we can, and we will explore every avenue, to play our part in helping those fleeing Afghanistan," she said.

"Our hearts go out to the people who are clearly in a desperate situation, particularly the women and girls whose human and civil rights will be under threat", she said.

Mr Givan said Northern Ireland "has not been found wanting" in the past, and took in more than 1,800 people in the wake of the Syrian conflict.

He said this was a higher proportional share than anywhere else in the UK.