Flanagan to discuss counter-terrorism with EU ministers

Minister says strong partnership between EU states needed to combat terrorism

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan will meet EU counterparts in Brussels  for a scheduled meeting of foreign ministers that is expected to be dominated by the issue of counter-terrorism. Photogragh: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan will meet EU counterparts in Brussels for a scheduled meeting of foreign ministers that is expected to be dominated by the issue of counter-terrorism. Photogragh: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan will meet EU counterparts in Brussels today for a scheduled meeting of foreign ministers that is expected to be dominated by the issue of counter-terrorism.

With security still tight in Belgium and the army patrolling strategic sites following Thursday’s shoot-out in the eastern town of Verviers, EU foreign ministers arrived in Brussels last night ahead of today’s meeting, which will also consider developments in Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Flanagan said he expected EU ministers to examine how to intensify the efforts of member states in combating terrorism, an issue that he had discussed with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, last week in Dublin.

“The recent appalling terrorist attacks in France and Nigeria remind us that terrorism does not respect borders,” he said. “We need strong partnership between member states as well as co-operation between the EU and third countries and organisations in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

Engaging with partners in the Middle East and within Europe was also a key priority, Mr Flanagan said. EU foreign ministers are also due to meet with Dr Nabil el Araby, secretary general of the Arab League today.

Europe is reeling from a spate of terrorist incidents that have prompted a widespread crackdown on suspected jihadists. More than two dozen arrests were made in Germany, France and Belgium on Friday after Belgian police claimed to have foiled an imminent terrorist plot against police.

Terrorist groups

More than 3,000 EU citizens are estimated to have travelled to the Middle East to fight for Islamic State and other jihadist terrorist organisations.

Speaking on RTÉ radio on Saturday, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald rejected claims Ireland was soft on jihadist fighters. “You can never rule out the possibility of an attack but it’s not likely at present,” the Minister said, though she acknowledged that monitoring was important. “We do have a number of individuals who’ve returned who were foreign fighters, and clearly the intelligence forces will be very alert to any threats.”

The Minister was responding to media claims that extremists were using Ireland as a training ground and coming back from war zones through the State to other European countries where new legislation restricted their movement.

Last week, she dismissed media reports suggesting jihadist training camps had been held in the State. “There is no truth in relation to that,” she said.

On Saturday on RTÉ radio, Ms Fitzgerald said “I have absolutely no evidence that training camps are taking place in Ireland, nor have the gardaí at present.”

Training camps

A report in the Irish Independent quoting “high-level intelligence sources” said potential jihadist recruits were being trained in Irish mountains, swimming in frozen lakes and camping out.

Asked on the Today with Claire Byrne programme if she had been told about reports of such training, the Minister replied: “If there is that kind of evidence it will be followed up undoubtedly.”

She added that “of course the best intelligence, the best security information . . . you don’t share it publicly, but we have no evidence in relation to training camps”.

But, she said, “if anybody has evidence of that type, you can be absolutely sure that the gardaí and security forces will be examining all of that”.

Legislation to strengthen existing laws on recruiting and training terrorists has gone through the Seanad, she said. “But we already have the Offences against the State Act. We have a Passport Act that makes it very clear that people’s passports can be taken, their citizenship revoked.”

Ms Fitzgerald also said, “I don’t have any information, nor do the intelligence or security forces have information, that suggests . . . Ireland [is] being seen as a soft touch.”