The Islamist terrorism threat in Ireland

The Islamist terrorism threat in Ireland

In early January, a brutal series of stabbings in the town of Dundalk sparked a discussion across Ireland about the country’s preparedness in the face of international terrorism.

On 3 January, news reports from the small town of Dundalk in County Louth emerged of an 18-year-old foreign national who had stabbed three individuals, killing one and badly injuring two. While the motive of the attack has yet to be established, in the days following the incident, many in the Irish media were asking how was it possible that almost no information existed concerning the perpetrator’s nationality, his immigration status or about when he entered the Irish Republic.

The assault – which some suggested could be the country’s first “lone wolf” attack – also reinvigorated a debate about security and Ireland’s preparedness that began months earlier following the revelations that the Irish government had granted residency to Rachid Redouane who would later take part in the attack on London’s Borough market in June 2017. This is despite the UK government’s decision to reject his asylum application.

The nature of the threat

Terror related activities linked to radical Islam are a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland, which has developed considerably since 2011. Approximately forty Irish citizens are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight against coalition forces. They include Muslim converts such as Terence Edward Kelly (also known as Khalid Kelly), who went to Syria in 2016 but later died in Mosul after driving a vehicle carrying an improvised explosive device. As with other European nations, Ireland is now wondering what security threats may lay in store, as its own battle-hardened citizens return home.

While the Irish Republic must contend with threats brewing abroad, within its borders, cases of terror-related offences have hit the headlines. In late September 2017, in the west of Ireland, a suspected ISIS cell of eight, headed by two Chechen brothers was put under surveillance for suspicions they were undertaking ‘dummy runs’ using the local postal service to send items to the Middle East, as well as working to fundraise and make financial transfers to support extremist organizations. Months earlier, after an 18-month police investigation, in the southern town of Waterford, a couple in their twenties was arrested for helping to fundraise in support of terrorist activity.

On the Beat

The Irish Republic is one of the few nations in the world where the majority of its police force, known as an Garda Siochána, are unarmed. Approximately only 20 to 25% are trained to use a firearm. However in 2016, as a result of EU security directives following the Brussels Airport bombings, the government was compelled to establish specialist armed units or Armed Support Units, which could be swiftly dispatched around the country. The existence of specialist armed forces has brought into question, Ireland’s ability to deal with lone wolf attacks.

For the authorities, it has become a game of catch up to meet both the security and legislative demands that have arisen in the last few years. In the wake of the Borough market attack in London, Ireland’s foreign minister at the time Charlie Flanagan sought to reassure the Irish public that: “A terror attack is unlikely to happen, but we must remain vigilant”. He further noted that he was: “absolutely confident that the Garda Siochána, at every level, is fully in control of the situation here, the sharing of the intelligence internationally and obviously securing the State here from a national perspective”. This is despite the warnings of Garda representative associations, who expressed concern noting that the rank and file members “have received no training for such eventualities”.

Luck of the Irish?

Unlike many of her neighbours, Ireland’s geographic position and relatively homogeneous population, make it easier for the security forces to monitor the activities of potential terrorists. It is also not a member of Schengen and thus it is easier to track the comings and goings of suspects. However, if the authorities are to be successful, there needs to be an appreciation for the fact that despite being a small, politically neutral country, this will not deter individuals who seek to organize and commit atrocities. Given its relationship with the UK, Ireland cannot afford to overlook its own security gaps and gain a reputation as an organizational hub for terrorism. Therefore tackling this problem will have to form a key part of the Irish government’s agenda in the months ahead.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Emily Boulter

Emily Boulter is a Rotterdam-based writer, who is also the creator of the current affairs blog "From Brussels to Beirut". Previously, she worked as an assistant for the vice-chair of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament.