June 5, 2017 by Fiachra
In recent weeks, the Irish media has been flooded with reports about Ireland’s underpreparedness in the event of a terrorist attack. This appears to have been confirmed by a report today that one of the London Bridge and Borough Market attackers was in possession of an Irish identity card. In response to the London attacks, the Irish government has deployed armed Gardaí in Irish cities and large towns. It is possible that these deployments reflect newly acquired threat information that has not been released into the public domain. However, based on that information which is released to the public, these deployments are unwarranted, unhelpful and a waste of Garda resources.
All of this is not to say that Ireland shouldn’t engage in significant and possibly expensive security reform. However, the goal must be to improve the state’s capacity to identify and monitor extremists on behalf of our neigbhours. The Government must be honest with the public that the risk of an attack occuring on Irish soil is both low and probably impossible to prevent. Ireland is not a priority target for either Al-Qaeda or Daesh. We have not engaged ourselves significantly in Western policy interventions in the Middle East, and we have historically shown significant solidarity with the Palestinian cause (as any recent visitor to Dublin city centre will know). If a terrorist attack occurs, it is more likely to be carried out by a lone wolf such as Omar Mateen, who affiliates with a terrorist group to further a personal vendetta, than by an organised cell or network. Lone wolf attacks are near impossible to prevent – whether through surveillance or through armed police deployment.
As Al-Qaeda and Daesh have bigger fish to fry, it is no wild guess to suggest that their primary interest in Ireland lies in using the lax security environment to organise attacks elsewhere. All of the Islamist terrorists that have appeared before the Irish courts have been charged with financing and organising attacks in other countries. Rather than worrying the population with talk of improbable and unpreventable catastrophes, the Government should emphasise our commitment to supporting our neighbours by identifying and prosecuting terrorists. We do not want a reputation for being a safe-haven for extremists, and we should be willing to put our money where our mouth is to achieve this. The litany of policing scandals that have been drip fed to the Irish public in recent months should add to the public demand for ambitious policing and security reform. There is no objecive need for scaremongering.
With regard to lone-wolf attacks, security-only approaches have proven themselves ineffective elsewhere in the world. The best method of reducing extremism in all of its flavours is social policies that aim to improve public wellbeing. If citizens feel invested in society, they will be reluctant to undermine it – irregardless of whether they hold “extremist” or “anti-liberal” views. My suggestion to the Government would be to focus on creating more well paid, secure and fulfilling jobs, tackling the cost of living, improving access to housing, education and healthcare, and investing in community policing. In security speak, this comes under the unbrella of building “resilience” – though I would argue that it is a task which is best left to civilian policymakers.
In sum, Ireland must show solidarity with the UK and our EU partners through disrupting terrorist cells. We should give our security services the necessary tools out of good neighbourliness, and caremongering is unnecessary and probably counter-productive. On the other hand, we should do more to ensure that everyone living on this island feels invested in our society. The political will to invest in social programmes to achieve this should exist in buckets, especially after almost a decade of austerity.
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