Saturday 1 October 2016

Paris Terror Attacks: Threat of an attack in Ireland is low - for now - but 'lone wolf' incidents would cause chaos

Declan Power

Published 17/11/2015 | 06:48

French police secure the area outside a housing comples as police conduct a door-to-door search operation in the Neudorf neighborhood in Strasbourg, France, November 16, 2015
French police secure the area outside a housing comples as police conduct a door-to-door search operation in the Neudorf neighborhood in Strasbourg, France, November 16, 2015

As the reality of Paris finally sinks in, the question most are asking – outwardly or inwardly – is: ‘Could it happen here?’

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Of course it could. That’s the bad news. Even the garda commissioner has stated that it is impossible to completely protect a country against attacks of this nature.

There are no neutrals in this fight and Ireland certainly isn’t neutral. We are committed to the EU’s Common Security and Defence missions and their Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Part of our commitments involved Ireland signing an undertaking that in the event of a terrorist attack we would assist our European partners by whatever means possible, as they would assist us.

The good news, however, is that it would be very difficult for terrorists to launch an attack in Ireland of the magnitude of what happened in Paris.

The fact the terrorists in this era are predominantly Muslim and from a Middle Eastern background means they need a large population of that nature to float or disappear into when they are planning and organising for such an attack. Less than 1.1pc of our population currently fits this profile.

Also, like Britain, we are an island nation, and it is much more difficult for people to enter this jurisdiction without coming to the attention of the authorities at some point.

We have also enhanced our information-sharing with the British immigration authorities, so jumping from one jurisdiction to another after you land will not allow you to hide.

Status

This is the prime reason why our Government has told us that the current threat level to Ireland remains ‘low’. As of now, they are correct.

However, there have been some game-changers that we in Ireland must take note of. We cannot afford to be complacent because of our island status. A lone-wolf attack in the heart of Dublin could cause havoc.

I have no doubt armed gardai and Army special forces could respond and ultimately vanquish such an attack, but there would undoubtedly be loss of life.

Our police and military counter-terrorist response, based on the French experience at the Bataclan venue, must now re-configure to deal not with a hostage-taking scenario, but with having to directly respond to a situation where civilians are being shot out of hand.

This means no time to cordon off areas, evacuate the public, and stabilise the situation. In order to prevent further loss of life the armed responders will have to immediately identify and kill the terrorists.

This will require a considerable shift in the direction of preparation and training. The Defence Force Ranger Wing are probably better prepared for this than the Garda Emergency Response Unit.

But make no mistake, it is a difficult task to send a team straight into a live-action scenario in an urban setting and expect them to locate and kill assailants.

Also, as Defence Minister Simon Coveney has recently stated, the EU must reconstruct its intelligence gathering and dissemination practices.

Strike

The EU currently relies completely on receiving voluntary information from member states. This must change, there must be a more uniform approach to handling intelligence across the Union. Why? Because we know that the Paris attack was planned and conceived in Belgium before being executed in the French capital.

However, we should also remember that despite the tragic loss of life last Friday, it was not a nuclear strike. It is also somewhat unfair to label it ‘Europe’s 9/11’. That is dismissive of the attacks in Madrid and London, and Friday’s attackers did not wreak anything on the same level of devastation as 9/11 did.

Paris is still standing, open for business and functioning. Life shall go on. With lessons learned and resilience, Europe will prevail over this aggression – as she has continued to do over the last century.

Declan Power is an independent security analyst and former career soldier

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