Ireland not ‘soft’ on jihadist fighters - Frances Fitzgerald
No evidence of training camps but individuals back from war zones being monitored
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said legislation to strengthen existing laws on recruiting and training terrorists has gone through the Seanad.
Ireland is not soft on jihadist fighters Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has insisted, rejecting claims of a lack of appropriate counter-terrorist legislation.
Ms Fitzgerald also said: “You can never rule out the possibility of an attack but it’s not likely at present.”
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 Minster was responding to media claims that the State was soft on jihadist fighters and to 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.
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”.
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 suggest . . . Ireland (is) being seen as a soft touch”.
The Minister pointed out that every European country was more aware and more sensitive to these issues following events in Paris but “this has been on the radar of Justice and home affairs ministers for the last number of years”.
“We have 3,000 foreign fighters who have gone from various European countries to fight. When they return they are radicalised. You always have the situation of lone wolves, people acting on their own.”
“You can never absolutely rule out a terrorist threat as we all know from our own history.
“But in terms of Ireland being a soft touch from a passport or visa point of view, we’re working very closely with the UK in relation to visa and increasing the use of fingerprinting, exchanging information across Europe.”
Reports also claimed money laundering was taking place through a number of businesses to assist fighters.
The Minister said: “Of course they are aware that this is a possibility and follow the money is a very key way of tracking down international terrorists, not just terrorists but international criminals. And we have the legislation in force that can be used in that situation.”
There is a huge exchange of information between Europol and Interpol and intelligence forces across Europe, individuals who pose a particular threat are carefully monitored and if there is evidence they are prosecuted, she said.
Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said on the same programme that it was important not to forget “that the vast majority of Muslims living in this country are law abiding Irish citizens who want to get on and integrate with Irish society”.
And he said there was a “level of hypocrisy around this. Nato supported jihadists against Libya”.
“We have the open sores of Palestine. We have the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and we also have a Muslim community throughout Europe that is quite fearful of their position and of being able to express themselves in their religious terms in a pluralist fashion.”
He said the best tool against this radicalisation was to ensure that the injustices faced in Muslim communities were solved both at home and internationally,
Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger warned of the danger that the killings in Paris were being exploited by racist and Islamophobic groups.
She also said there was a lot of hypocrisy involved. “Girls are not allowed to wear headscarves in schools and yet they see westerners telling them there should be freedom of expression”.