Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin, has announced the opening of a consular crisis center for Irish citizens that are stranded abroad, due to the volcanic ash cloud grounding all European flights.

The crisis centre will be based in Dublin and will open until 8 pm every night.

The center will provide information and reassurances, but will be unable to organize individual travel arrangements.

The UK government has sent two Royal Navy ships to pick up stranded British citizens on mainland Europe.

Unfortunately the Irish state does not have the capacity to do something similar to the UK.

"I am deeply conscious of the plight of the many thousands of Irish citizens who have found themselves unable to return home because of the restrictions." said Martin.

"At this stage, it would appear that the situation is unlikely to change in the immediate future."

Martin said that there are many citizens that are running out of money and prescription medicines.

"I am also well aware of the huge efforts that the Irish embassies abroad are already undertaking to assist those stranded."

"I would like to assure all those who find themselves stranded that the Government are acutely aware of their difficulty's and will keep the position under review,” said Martin.

Martin encouraged those that are encountering medical and visa problems to contact their local embassy or consulate.

The Minister also asked relatives to transfer money to cash strapped passengers.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has insisted that Irish airspace will be closed until at least 6 pm today. However it is expected that the aviation shutdown will last several more days.

KLM, Air France, and Lufthansa flew safe test flights yesterday across Europe.

"Verification flights undertaken by several of our airlines have revealed no irregularities at all, this confirms our requirements that other options should be deployed to determine genuine risk," said general secretary of the Association of European Airlines Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.

European Union transport ministers are to hold a videoconference today, to discuss the ash cloud that has left millions of passengers stranded.

The ministers are set to review aviation rules and they may ease the flight ban and allow some air travel.

However, speaking to the Irish Times newspaper, Eamon Brennan from the IAA said that Ireland was in the core area of the volcanic ash cloud and warned that the disruption "could last all week long."

Over 63,000 flights have been cancelled across Europe and over 5 million passengers have been affected.

Spain's secretary of state for EU affairs Diego Lopez Garrido said that 50% of flights could operate in Europe today.

British prime minister Gordon Brown has sent to Royal Navy ships to Europe to pick up stranded passengers.

"I expect HMS Ocean to be in the Channel today, I expect Ark Royal to be moving towards a channel port. Our first priority is to avoid the inconvenience being caused to thousands of people."