Wednesday 22 January 2020

We need to invest in gardai to prepare for potential terror attacks - former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern

Former justice minister Dermot Ahern. Photo: Tom Burke
Former justice minister Dermot Ahern. Photo: Tom Burke
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

Closing garda stations and replacing gardai with community officers is leaving us more vulnerable to terrorists, former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern claimed this morning.

He said that we need to be prepared in case there's a terrorist attack here and we must ensure our security services are adequately staffed and trained.

Mr Ahern (FF) was speaking after it emerged that one of the men involved in an attack London on Saturday night - in which seven people died and dozens more were injured - lived in Dublin for a while.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Ahern said: "I'm not surprised, from 2004 until 2011 I was Minister for Foreign Affairs and subsequently Minister for Justice, over those years I was regularly briefed by An Garda Siochana about the ongoing paramilitary threats in the country, homegrown terrorists and from outside, mainly jihadis.

"In fairness there was always a focus on specific individuals who were of concern...

"I make that point because in fairness the gardai have been on top of this, when you see what's happening in the UK, you see the response and that's what we should be focusing on - the response to these events, to make sure that we have the resources.

An Irish ID card, possibly issued by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, was found on one of the men shot dead by police
An Irish ID card, possibly issued by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, was found on one of the men shot dead by police

"I don't say this in any political way but when I left as Minister for Justice in 2011 there were 14,500 gardai, now there's only about 12,500.

"I'm not blaming anyone from a political point of view, there was a recession, that's the reality and numbers had to be cut.

"That's why the Templemore facility wasn't built in those years either because the money was  diminishing but now that there's a bit more it should be a matter of priority and I think more investment needs to go into this area."

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Mr Ahern added: "I do worry about some of the comments that are being made about splitting An Garda Siochana into silos.

"One of the crosses of the gardai is this community policing, you cannot beat the garda on the beat who knows the community, the more you take that away, the more it will suffer.

"Thankfully we're a relatively small country, it's very hard for these people to live anonymously, it's more difficult in a country as big as the UK.

"When I was in Justice I refused to close garda stations because you are taking people out of the community, as if it's nothing to do with jihadis but it does because they're the ones who will know and are on the ground."

Armed police officers patrol outside The Shard tower and London Bridge railway station in London. Photo: Getty
Armed police officers patrol outside The Shard tower and London Bridge railway station in London. Photo: Getty

Mr Ahern also defended our immigration and asylum systems, saying that people need to be well vetted for our safety.

He said: "Gardai are always worried that Ireland would be used as a stepping stone for attacks on the UK, particularly with common travel and the relationship with the UK, the borders, we're always conscious that Ireland could be used as a stepping stone for jihadis.

"You have some some groups saying that Ireland has a very low level of success for asylum seekers applications and immigrants coming in but that's for a very valid reason.

"Gardai and immigration services are very careful about attempts by people trying to come into this country.

"Genuine asylum seekers are absolutely no problem..

"But our immigration services need to be extremely careful and those coming into this country need to be really well vetted."

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He also claimed that he was warned that the UK security forces were monitoring thousands of potential terrorists up to 12 years ago.

He said: "At th end of a meeting in London Gordon Brown pulled myself and Bertie Ahern aside and said that he had just got a security briefing, and that as far as he was concerned Northern Ireland was solved.

"From a security point of view he said his government focus almost exclusively on the almost 2,500 home grown potential, second generation suicide bombers who were living in the UK.

"I have to say in the intervening years the UK has been extremely lucky, in my view.

"Huge work has been done in counter-terrorism and intelligence to prevent these events form happening but obviously as we saw in the last few weeks they're there and those chilling words have come back to haunt us to a certain extent.

"That was said in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, where you'll remember at least 50 people were killed."

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