Paul Williams: Ireland's national security is not fit for purpose to protect against possible attack by Islamist terrorists
The architecture of Ireland's national security is not fit for purpose with grossly inadequate resourcing and training to protect against possible attack by Islamist terrorists.
And despite assurances from senior security officials and government ministers that the situation is under control the chilling reality is that this assertion is based more on hope than a tried and tested security infrastructure.
There is an implied assumption that the maniacal, merciless Islamic State nihilists have given the white western Irish people a pass and somehow view us benignly because we are peace-loving, neutral people.
Our securocrats and ministers have consistently described the threat of attack as moderate but unlikely.
So far we have been lucky.
There is a considerable amount of good work being done by the dedicated Garda intelligence unit, Counter Terrorism International (CTI), which liaises with counterparts around the world.
CTI has successfully identified a number of ISIS fund raising and money laundering operations here and have secured the deportation of a leading Islamic State activist.
However this is only one strand of the State security mechanism which is not fit for purpose.
In a recent investigation in both the Sunday and Irish Independent senior military sources revealed how devastating cut backs and an “alarming” brain drain of specially trained personnel has dramatically reduced the ability of the Defence Forces to provide “even a minimal effective response” to any major security incident.
They warned that an “unprecedented crisis” has been unfolding behind the walls of military barracks across the country which both the Department of Defence and the Government have been “desperate to keep under wraps”.
The representative associations of rank-and-file and mid-ranking gardai have also publicly revealed that their members have received no training to deal with major incidents like the Manchester atrocity.
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Speaking at the Garda Representative Association conference last month Garda Colin Moran, who is based at Dublin airport, revealed that "there is no plan in place" for gardai in the event of a co-ordinated terrorist attack similar to that which took place in Brussels airport in March 2016.
Even more alarming was the disclosure that there are only three armed detectives based in what is one of Europe's busiest airports.
"There isn’t adequate cover – I’ve been there ten years and I haven’t been told if there’s a direct line to the Defence Forces if something happens," he said.
"And the only people with tactical training are the Emergency Response Unit and the Armed Support Unit. In my opinion, every detective in the city of Dublin should be trained tactically because they are the first line of defence."
As part of our investigation into State security I saw internal documents which clearly show how the Army, Navy and Air Corps have been run down to such a level that they are ill-equipped to tackle major security challenges such as those posed by a potential Islamist terror attack.
Last month we revealed how, in the wake of increased threats from Islamic fundamentalists, a Government commitment to double the size of the Defence Forces' special forces unit, the Army Ranger Wing, has not been acted upon almost two years after it was first announced.
The announcement was made in November 2015 by the then Defence Minister Simon Coveney immediately following the deaths of 130 people in Paris during a co-ordinated attack by Islamic State (IS).
The Minister had also previously announced the Government's commitment to increase the size of the unit to 100 troops when he launched the White Paper on Defence in August 2015.
However, the Irish Independent revealed that as of March there were just two vacancies in the Ranger Wing whose actual strength remains less than 60 members.
Military sources claimed that there has been no increase in the unit strength and no plan is in place for an expansion which would require the recruitment of at least 40 new members.
A source close to the elite unit told us: "Despite Minister Coveney prioritising the expansion of the ARW the management in the Defence Forces has done nothing to implement this.
"In January of this year, eighteen months after the Minister first announced the expansion of the unit, there were just two vacancies and the unit is officially at its full strength of three platoons which have a total of no more than 60 members.
"There is no one in place to measure or evaluate the actual expansion as directed by the Government. The public are not being told the truth about the state of the Defence Forces; that will only come out when something terrible happens and then it will be too late."
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A spokesperson for the DOD would not comment on the ARW expansion citing "operational security".
Meanwhile we also revealed how a war gaming desk top exercise involving gardai and military experts, which was designed to test and evaluate the personnel and equipment resources required to deal with a serious security situation, was quietly shelved at the behest of the Department of Defence because it had showed up so many shortcomings in capabilities.
The Government, and indeed the opposition in the form of Fianna Fail, have completely ignored these revelations which are only the tip of the iceberg.
A number of politicians have been extensively briefed and presented with evidence backing up the claims by unofficial senior military sources who are deeply concerned about the security deficit.
But everywhere political and media enquiries are being met with a solid wall of silence with officials in all the relevant departments citing "national security".
The senior security sources have also claimed that the body which administers our national security, the much-hyped National Security Committee (NSC) is "not fit for purpose" as it hides behind a cloak of secrecy.
Former soldier and independent senator Ger Craughwell attempted to raise this very issue in the Seanad yesterday but was rebuffed by a Government Minister using the security of the state mantra.
The NSC has six permanent members: the Garda Commissioner, the Defence Forces Chief of Staff and four secretaries general from the departments of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Defence and the Taoiseach.
Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and Vice-admiral Mark Mellett are the only members of the NSC who actually have corporate knowledge of security and are responsible for the operation outputs.
However, they are public servants appointed by Government who implemented the swinging cutbacks which have undermined the two agencies of State security.
"The problem here is that both the police and military committee members police and evaluate the ability of their respective organisations and that is not good enough.
"There is no Oireachtas oversight or independent, professional evaluations of capabilities or procedures."