Terrorism threat: assessing Ireland’s ability to respond
People require reassurance that all that can be done is being done
Grosvenor Square in Rathmines, Dublin, where London Bridge attacker Rachid Redouane lived for a time. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Most people will accept that there are no absolute guarantees of security and safety in the face of terrorism. There cannot be when the threats range from the sophisticated and carefully planned to attacks by individuals with the loosest affiliations to extremist organisations and who turn the humdrum of everyday life into weapons of random and mass killing.
In reality, this State’s greatest defence has been its history, peripheral location and its irrelevance, in broad terms, to the geopolitics that has influenced attacks in other parts of Europe. But any sense that Ireland is somehow removed from these events has been diminished by the discovery that one of the three London Bridge attackers Rachid Redouane married his British wife here in 2012, had a number of addresses in Dublin and was here at various stages in 2015 and 2016.
The more critical issue is the capacity of the Garda and military intelligence to respond proactively to threats, especially from the perspective of deterrence and prevention
In responding to these developments, perspective is important along with an acknowledgment that in a closely connected world, the fringe is not far from the main stage. Taoiseach Enda Kenny characterised the threat of an attack here as moderate – possible but not probable – and his expected successor Leo Varadkar proposed a new Cabinet subcommittee on national security, based on the Cobra model in Britain which is convened and chaired by the prime minister to deal with terrorist attacks and other incidents. It is worth noting, however, that the Garda Commissioner already reports to the Minister for Justice and that the Taoiseach has subsumed the role of Minister for Defence into his own responsibilities.
The more critical issue is the capacity of the Garda and military intelligence to respond proactively to threats, especially from the perspective of deterrence and prevention. Have Garda specialist sections the expertise and resources required? Is the force sufficiently connected to the new communities, and those on the edges of them, that are now an integral and vital part of our society? Community policing is dependent on gardaí being part of the community and reflecting its composition. The work also involves relationship building and it requires time, commitment and resources.
There is broad public awareness of staff shortages limiting the flight time of the Air Corps. Are such cutbacks impacting other parts of the Defence Forces? Is military intelligence, for instance, fully resourced? Is it instructive that the Department of Defence is not represented by a dedicated minister at Cabinet? More broadly, should Garda and military intelligence services be merged? And are both overly dependent on intelligence gathering by foreign agencies?
These are sensitive issues which are not amenable to detailed public scrutiny. Society places its trust in the Government to do what is right. There is no need for alarm or for scaremongering but in an uncertain environment, people require reassurance that all that can be done is being done.