Extremists flying under Garda radar ‘pose biggest risk’ in Ireland
Faster, armed security response would be vital if any attack took place
Gardaí at the Regency Hotel following the fatal shooting of David Byrne last month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
The decision to deploy at Dublin Airport and Dublin Port the type of armed policing patrols seen at such facilities across the US and Europe is heavy with symbolism in the Republic where policing is predominantly unarmed.
The measure is being put in place as a deterrent for any would-be terrorists sizing up the terminals for a Brussels-style attack. And the armed members of the new Regional Support Unit would be in a position to react much more quickly to any serious incident compared to current arrangements.
At present, the Emergency Response Unit or Special Detective Unit would rush to the airport or port from Dublin city if the alarm was raised. Security experts and senior gardaí say the measure is necessary in that the Republic must be seen to respond to the growing threat from Islamic extremists.
But they agree it is impossible to make Ireland safe, especially against those willing to engage in suicide bombing.
Security analyst and former Army officer Declan Power says the biggest theoretical threat of an attack in Ireland comes from people living here who have been radicalised by people they had met and/or communicated with via the internet but who have never come to the attention of the authorities.
“They may have been radicalised by people they met here or in other parts of Europe, online or a combination of those. And they may then decide to do something violent,” he said.
“Maybe they are a bit despondent or volatile to begin with anyway. And the whole situation with Islamic State and the international security debacle gives them a degree of cover or legitimacy. They can do all kinds of violent things and claim they are striking a blow for their people.”
Another concern was “a slightly more organised approach” in which people living in Ireland had gone abroad to fight in Syria or Iraq and had returned here without coming to the attention of the authorities.
He says better links to ethnic communities need to be established by those responsible for security in the State and there should be better sharing of intelligence.
Garda sources also pointed to intelligence sharing and gathering as a concern.
Some said a large number of senior Garda officers had retired in recent years and with them had gone the strong personal relationships with their counterparts in the North and UK with whom intelligence would be shared.
Others said a reduction in the Garda’s budget and manpower had seen the force’s activities scaled back.
“With surveillance and intelligence, you are less likely to come under pressure if you reduce the budget,” said one. “And so it’s often the first thing trimmed when times are tough.” Another pointed to the gangland gun attack at the Regency Hotel last month as an example of cutbacks that left Ireland more at risk, but said nothing suggested risk from the Islamic State.
“You had one group of criminals in the Regency for a boxing event and the media and their enemies knew they’d be there but there was no surveillance,” he said.
“But when the resources were put into the investigation of that attack, there has been some great progress.
“And if we are letting intelligence and surveillance slip when it comes to Irish gangland, the chances of being on the ball with the international guys is not great, is it?”