Saturday 27 May 2017

Jim Cusack: Ireland must be prepared to deal with terror strike

Planning inquiry heard that disaster 'emergency' list of contact names was now badly out of date, writes Jim Cusack

Speculation: Friday’s attacks may have been revenge for the killing of Mohammed Emwazi, Isil’s chief executioner
Speculation: Friday’s attacks may have been revenge for the killing of Mohammed Emwazi, Isil’s chief executioner
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

As a matter of urgency, the Government needs to address the State's emergency response to a major terrorist attack after it emerged that the plan of one local port and authority was very seriously out of date.

There is no known way other than mass and intense surveillance to prevent 'lone wolf' or 'marauding terrorist attacks (MTAs)' senior security sources have told the Sunday Independent.

The immediate response, however, is the key to minimising casualties and Ireland's plans are in need of overhaul, the sources say.

The Garda Special Branch and the Army's Intelligence and Ordnance sections are the lead security elements in preparation for terrorist attacks, but past experience has shown that ordinary gardai doing their job properly - spotting and reporting suspicious activity - are the main bulwark in any state against such attacks.

The Irish Army is highly regarded throughout the world for its in-depth experience and inventiveness in countering terrorist and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks.

Later this month, the Ordnance Corps will host a one-week international training programme for Nato countries on how to counter and respond to the very same type of attack that took place in Paris on Friday night.

Details of the training plan are secret but the Irish Army is unique in having the longest and most in-depth experience in countering terrorist explosive attacks, given its 30 years of experience in countering the IRA and subsequent experience in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Irish Army explosive experts were able to show other major armies how best to deal with IEDs in the aftermath of the Gulf War, when the US and other Allied forces began suffering casualties from the very same type of devices that were designed by the IRA and passed on to their terrorist associate groups like the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as government-directed terror groups in Libya and Iran, before eventually making their way to Afghanistan and Colombia.

The IRA 'wrote the book' on modern terrorist attacks and Friday's attacks in Paris follow in the multiple-bomb attacks that the IRA used in Northern Ireland and Britain during the Troubles.

The worst example was the 'Bloody Friday' attacks in Belfast in July 1972, when the IRA detonated 20 bombs in an around the city centre in a space of 80 minutes, killing nine people and injuring 200.

Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein 'condemned' Friday night's attacks in Paris but has never used this word in relation to IRA atrocities.

The only significant difference in the Islamist modus operandi is that they have a large stock of suicidal activists, unlike the Provisional IRA, who often used 'proxy' bomb carriers, innocent people who were forced to deliver bombs while their families were held hostage with the threat that they would be murdered if the devices were not brought to their targets.

The Republic, being the only country in Europe with blasphemy laws that make the depiction of Mohammed a criminal offence, is at the bottom of the Isil target list, but there is no reason to believe that an attack cannot take place here.

The strong economic, social and political links to the United States and the United Kingdom are factors in the analysis of risk-of-attack here, sources say.

The US, Israeli and British governmental and economic presences here are all guarded and this is likely to be re-examined and stepped up where deemed necessary.

The Garda Special Branch is now devoting most of its energies to countering the threat from Islamic terrorism here and, given that 90pc of Muslims in Ireland come from the same Sunni background as the Isil attackers in Paris, there is constant surveillance of groups sympathetic to the fundamentalist jihadis.

There was a significant Al Qaeda support organisation here in the 1990s prior to 9/11 and garda sources say there is similar, though more low-key, support for Isil's ideals about achieving a 'caliphate'.

The immediate emphasis, sources say, should be in making preparations for a major attack. This, it is said, would also be of benefit in the event of a natural or accidental disaster in which there is major loss of life - such as a large building fire.

The Government directed that all local authorities and all government departments should set up and regularly update emergency disaster response plans. But it emerged last month that at least some of these have fallen hopelessly out of date.

Key to these emergency plans was that every local authority must have a go-to list of top managers who would help co-ordinate the emergency response.

However, during a public hearing by An Bord Pleanala into plans to berth major cruise ships in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, it emerged that the Harbour Company had allowed its emergency contact list to lapse badly.

Of the nine names included on the list for senior management figures in the event of a major emergency, seven were uncontactable, due, it is understood, to retirements or resignations.

The current serving Harbour Master, Captain Simon Coate, did answer his phone but three other 'senior' figures on the list had retired, one five years ago. Calls to the five other names on the list led to voicemail or messages that the phones were no longer in use.

Sunday Independent

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