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Foreign diplomats have avoided prosecution for road traffic offences 12 times in the last two years

The diplomats were nabbed by gardaí across the country but granted immunity from prosecution.

Image: Shutterstock/Adam.Bialek

FOREIGN DIPLOMATS HAVE avoided prosecution for road traffic offences 12 times since 2019 by using their diplomatic immunity.

According to documents obtained by The Journal, the Department of Foreign Affairs were notified 17 times either by gardaí or by embassies and consulates of road traffic offences of embassy staff.

The documents cover the years 2019, 2020 and the first three months of this year. 

In a dozen of those cases tickets and any subsequent prosecutions were waived when the embassies used international laws to avoid the incident going any further.

Registration plates carrying the letters ‘CD’ are often spotted around Dublin – particularly near embassies.

There are 63 resident diplomatic missions in Ireland – and diplomatic immunity in cases like this would apply to approximately 1,250 people including ambassadors and embassy staff and their respective spouses and families.

The size of each mission can differ greatly. For example the Russian embassy has 15 staff, the Croatian embassy has three, Egypt has five, Saudi Arabia has 21, France has 20, the US has 21, and the UK has 22.

The Department of Foreign Affairs states that Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that a diplomatic agent “shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention”.

A second provision in Article 31 provides that a diplomatic agent “shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. Diplomatic immunity must be expressly waived for criminal proceedings to commence”.

A breakdown of the areas where the diplomats were found to have broken the road traffic laws show that – as you might imagine – Dublin was to the forefront.

Three such incidents were recorded on the N11 at Stillorgan, while there was a single entry each for Pembroke Road, Haddington Road and Morehampton Road and the Port Tunnel according to the documents, which were released under Freedom of Information legislation. 

Outside the capital there were offences on motorways including on the M9 in Kilkenny, the M7 at Portlaoise and the M7 at Naas. There were incidents near Bunratty, Co Clare and on the R772 at Ballinameesda Upper, Co Wicklow. The R772 runs from Kilbride onto the M11 motorway.

Croatia led the way in terms of offences with three recorded against them. The other states included Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea, Palestine, Russia, Switzerland and the USA.

According to a source all the offences the diplomats allegedly committed were road offences such as speeding or using a mobile phone while driving. 

A spokesperson for the Protocol section of the Department of Foreign Affairs outlined how the system works.

“Road traffic offences allegedly committed by people entitled to diplomatic immunity in Ireland may be brought to the attention of the Department of Foreign Affairs by An Garda Síochána where the individual choses to assert their diplomatic immunity.

“In cases where diplomatic immunity is asserted, An Garda Síochána forwards the Fixed Charge Notice to the Department and the Department is asked to indicate if the concerned individual is officially notified to the Department under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Department then responds directly to An Garda Síochána with the relevant information,” the spokesperson explained.

The Department may also, on occasion, receive notification through diplomatic channels from the Diplomatic Mission that a Fixed Charge Notice has been received for an alleged road traffic offence. In this case, the Diplomatic Mission would inform the Department that diplomatic immunity is asserted and the Department would inform An Garda Síochána.

The Fixed Charge Notice is cancelled once diplomatic immunity is asserted and the Department confirms the individual is an official diplomat.

Sinn Féin TD Johnny Guirke put in a parliamentary question earlier this year seeking figures covering a ten year period. Contacted by The Journal, he said he did not wish to comment on the answer sent back by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and did not comment on why he was interested in finding out the details. 

Coveney’s response showed that the Russian Embassy had 22 alleged offences. Second and third place went to Egypt and Saudi Arabia with nine each in ten years.   

In a response to Deputy Guirke’s query Minister Coveney said that his department “expects” all diplomatic missions to behave within Irish law.  

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“The number of alleged road traffic offences committed by members of the diplomatic community in Ireland is proportionately low. In general, Diplomatic Missions operate in compliance with Irish law,” he said.

The figures released to the Sinn Féin TD cover a ten year period up to the end of 2020.

Responses 

The Croatian Embassy could not be reached for comment but Victoria Loginova, Press Secretary at the Russian Embassy said the offences recorded were minor in nature and they average two per year.

“The Embassy scrupulously follows the letter of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, in particular, obligation of a diplomatic agent to respect the laws of a receiving state, including, naturally, all traffic regulations.

“Nevertheless, the Embassy takes such cases seriously and applies appropriate internal disciplinary procedures.

“As far as the concept of diplomatic immunity is concerned, it has to be clearly understood that the purpose of diplomatic immunities and privileges provided by the Vienna Convention is not to create a cover for any wrongful behaviour by a diplomatic agent.

“It is universally agreed ‘insurance’ against any kind of unwarranted actions against diplomats so that to create for them proper conditions to perform their official functions,” she said.

The Road Safety Authority declined to comment, when asked about the practice.

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