Terror threat to Ireland in renewed focus after Manchester bombing

While Armed Support Units play deterrent role, debate around security is often vague

Each time there has been a terror attack in France, the UK or other parts of Europe in recent years, a worried though often vague debate ensues in Ireland. That pattern continued on Tuesday in the wake of the Manchester attack.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would be speaking with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan about “security arrangements” and the threat to Ireland would be “monitored”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the Irish authorities were involved in "intensive and ongoing" co-operation with international law enforcement agencies.

However, of late rank-and-file gardaí have publicly expressed their concern about the force’s ability to cope if an attack occurred.


The Garda Representative Association (GRA) last month used the occasion of its annual delegate conference to call for anti-terrorism training for all members of the Garda, not just specialist units.

It believed even basic training was needed in directing crowds after any major incident and in sealing off and clearing public areas at times of risk. The GRA also revealed that as few as three armed Garda members were on duty at any one time at Dublin airport.

Inspiring confidence

The remarks did not inspire confidence.

The Gara Commissioner insisted a range of specialist Garda units were long skilled in tracking terrorists. And she also pointed to the fact new armed units had been rolled out in the regions and in Dublin of late.

The new Armed Support Unit for Dublin has in the last 12 months begun roving patrols at both the airport and Dublin Port. Those new tours followed concerns expressed by the British authorities in late 2015 that the benign security environment at the port and airport posed a risk to security in the UK.

Senior Garda officers with decades of experience in fighting terrorism say the force is aware and prepared for “a constant battle and vigilance” in the face of international risks.

The same sources point to the deep infiltration of dissident republican groups by gardaí, and the foiling of attacks being planned by those groups, over the last two decades as proof of the Garda’s craft.

Several senior officers believed Ireland was more at risk of being used as a base by Islamist extremists supporting active terrorists abroad than of suffering a terrorist attack.

Lower threat

"The threat to us is more benign that other countries like Belgium and France, the UK," said one source. "We are not picking up information that suggests otherwise."

Another agreed: “We have had two operations this year where suspects were arrested and it was about fundraising for [Isis] terrorism abroad. And that is what you would be most afraid of.

"You are also never sure about some of these guys going abroad to fight – mainly in Syria or Iraq. And then what state is their mind in when they come back to Ireland?

“They [returning radicalised fighters] have been the big, big risk factor in other European countries. And that is the risk for Ireland, especially in time.

“But we know them, we’re watching them and we will keep watching them. We have experience and a lot of success doing that with our own home-grown groups and we have a lot of support and information from [law enforcement] abroad.”