Ireland ‘engaging with international actors’ to help bring Lisa Smith home, says Flanagan

Dundalk woman and daughter being held in Al-Hawl displacement camp in Syria

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “It is a real challenge for Irish officials or people acting on behalf of the Irish state to enter one of the most challenging areas of conflict in the world”. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “It is a real challenge for Irish officials or people acting on behalf of the Irish state to enter one of the most challenging areas of conflict in the world”. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

The Government is engaging with “international actors” to help bring Dundalk woman Lisa Smith and her two-year-old daughter back to Ireland, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has confirmed.

Ms Smith (37), who travelled to Islamic State in Syria, is being held in the Al-Hawl displacement camp in Syria for the wives and children of Islamic State fighters.

She moved to Syria, via Tunisia, in 2015 shortly after leaving the Air Corps where she worked as a flight attendant on the Government jet and as a driver to senior officers. She served for a time with the Army as part of the 27th Infantry Battalion.

Speaking on the sidelines of an EU meeting of justice ministers in Helsinki, Finland, Mr Flanagan said the Government is unlikely to send any Irish personnel to Syria to bring Ms Smith back due to the dangers they might face.

Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern before boarding the Government Jet at Casement Aerodrome in April 2008 with Lisa Smith on the extreme right. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern before boarding the Government Jet at Casement Aerodrome in April 2008 with Lisa Smith on the extreme right. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

“I am most reluctant to comment on any individual consular case. But what I will say is that there are unique circumstances attached to this particular case insofar as the terrain is concerned,” Mr Flanagan said.

“It’s a real challenge for Irish officials or people acting on behalf of the Irish state to enter one of the most challenging areas of conflict in the world.”

The Minister said Ireland is “engaging with international actors in order to offer assistance” but declined to give more detail.

It is the first official confirmation the Government is relying on external parties to help bring Ms Smith and her child to Ireland.

The Government previously rejected a plan from the Defence Forces to bring her home from Syria two months ago through co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies.

The plan, which was drawn up by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, also known as J2, was presented to Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe in late April. It would have involved her being removed from the camp and sent south to the Jordanian border and to safety.

It has also previously been reported that the Government has asked for assistance from the International Red Cross in bringing Ms Smith and her daughter from Syria to Turkey where she would be met by Irish officials.

Lisa Smith: the suspected Isis supporter has said she did not commit any crimes in the name of the terrorist group
Lisa Smith: the suspected Isis supporter has said she did not commit any crimes in the name of the terrorist group

Although declining to comment on individual cases, Mr Flanagan indicated Ms Smith will be interviewed by gardaí immediately on her arrival in Ireland and may have to undergo a deradicalisation process.

“With people coming from that region to Ireland, arriving in Ireland, it’s important there are be interviews, welfare arrangements and also a process of deradicalisation if appropriate.”

He insisted no new legislation is needed to specifically prevent people from travelling to Syria or Iraq to join extremist groups.

“We have robust legislation. The investigation of any crime is a matter for An Garda Síochána and ultimately the DPP. Our legislation is robust but I can’t comment on individual investigations.”

This week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and several politicians from Ms Smith’s home county of Louth said she should be allowed return with her child.

In her latest media interview at the Al Hawl refugee camp near the Turkish border where she is being detained, Ms Smith said she does not think she will be allowed to return to Ireland.

She told RTÉ she did not commit any crimes in the name of the terrorist group Isis that once controlled parts of Syria and Iraq, nor did she train any young girls to fight.

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke radio programme he wanted to see Ms Smith and her two-year-old child, an Irish citizen, return to Ireland. “I want her child to be able to come home. I would never separate a mother and child,” he said.

Asked about difficulties associated with returning Ms Smith to Ireland, Mr Varadkar declined to comment on “military operations” but said the Government did not want to put any personnel at risk.