Unit aims to ‘build bridges’ with Muslim community in Ireland
A SPECIALISED Garda unit is quietly building close ties with the Muslim community in Ireland as fears of terror attacks by Islamic extremists spread across Europe.
The Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office is in constant contact with Islamic leaders and followers who provide valuable information which is helping to curb the threat of Ireland being used as a hub for jihadist terrorists.
The squad spent more than a decade developing relationships with the Muslim community which are now coming to bear fruit, as the so-called Islamic State looks to prey on young men living in Ireland for its barbaric holy war.
Garda Sergeant David McInerney, who heads the unit, said the large majority of Muslims living in Ireland are law-abiding citizens but there are some "bad eggs" who want to "make a name for themselves" by signing up with Islamic extremists.
Sgt McInerney said the Muslim community is quick to alert his office if they believe one of their own is being radicalised.
He told the Sunday Independent: "If they feel there is a threat to their community by somebody going out there (Syria or Iraq), if they feel the name of their community is going to be tarnished by some idiot going off to make a name for himself they will tell us something like that.
"We have to look at their vulnerability and we have to size it up and see what evidence is there to say this person did go out. Special branch members may know of somebody going out and our evidence would corroborate that suspicion."
The office consists of four core members who link up with 145 liaison officers working in divisions around the country.
Any information or concerns reported by the Muslim community, or other ethnic minorities, is fed back to Sgt McInerney, who in turn briefs his superiors in Garda Headquarters. Sgt McInerney has a wealth of experience in the area of conflict resolution from his work in post-war Croatia and Bosnia.
The savage attacks on the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the brutal murder of Jordanian air force pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh have focused efforts in government to tackle the threat of Irish Muslims being radicalised. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is preparing a raft of new measures aimed at stamping out any potential for extremists to use Ireland to spread their message of hate. The work of the Racial Intercultural and Diversity Office is central to the minister's plan.
It is hoped the office will speak with disillusioned Jihadists who return to Ireland from conflict zones and families who lost loved ones fighting in the Middle East.
"If someone did come back in the morning I would love to talk to them about their experience," Sgt McInerney said
"I have said if they would like to meet with us we would be glad to meet them, reassure them and talk about what happened. What they know could save somebody else's life."
The recent spate of terror attacks have resulted in an increase in hate mail arriving in the country's mosques and Muslims are being targeted with insults and abuse.
Sgt McInerney believes discriminating against the entire Muslim community for terror attacks increases the likelihood of radicalisation. He also believes there is a responsibility on gardai to understand the concerns and vulnerabilities of minority communities.
"You have kids who are easily radicalised and if you are radicalised you can be upset quite easily," he warned.
So far, around 30 Irish-based Muslims are suspected of travelling to war-torn areas in the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab Spring.
It is unclear if any of them returned but at least three are reported to have died fighting, including a 16-year-old boy.
Last weekend, a small anti-Islam protest was staged outside the Clonskeagh Mosque in Dublin, but a significantly larger counter-protest by local residents forced the demonstrators to retreat under Garda protection.
This incident and a demonstration against Roma families living in Waterford last year are among the few occasions when race relations have hit boiling point in this country.
Sgt McInerney said this is testament to the work his department does and the relationships it has built with minority communities.
"We've never had a major race riot, unlike other European countries," he said.
"We are engaging with the community to let them know we are not just there to arrest them but to build bridges with them."