Wednesday 13 November 2019

Mary Kenny: Gardai did great job for royals but blanket security is too unwieldy

Tight security surrounded the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Dublin last week
Tight security surrounded the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Dublin last week
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

I can't think of anyone who wasn't impressed by the way the gardai carried out their security duties last week, and will do so again this week.

They really were wonderful: unfailingly polite and good-tempered, too, in the face of occasional exasperated responses from some of us. I feel somewhat ashamed of the way in which I sometimes berated kindly young country guards around Dublin Castle because they insisted I walked the long way around to the back, Ship Street, entrance, instead of the 10 yards into the media centre via the front. I was late for a BBC radio interview and I thought common sense and the plethora of identity papers I had on me would let me slip through, but it was not to be. Rules were rules.

It was a tense afternoon, hours before the President's banquet for the queen, and the constabulary had their orders. An angry, raggle-taggle band of mainly young men supporting the dissident IRA movements were on the march. And, as I say, the guards themselves remained unflappable and courteous at all times. Moreover, the security operation was an unqualified success in that our visitors came to no harm.

Yet in another way, it was, of course, a great pity that so many members of the general public were kept away by the ring of steel everywhere. A republic is supposed to be built on a principle of equality among citizens, so it was an irony that only the elite got to meet Elizabeth and Philip, while the plain people of Ireland were kept at arm's length. All praise to Cork city for breaking with this rigid arrangement and showing a spontaneous Cead Mile Failte.

And for all that the gardai were successful at the job of protection, it seems to me that there ought to be a review of how security is carried out in the future for these major occasions. Isn't it time to get a bit more scientific and forensic about security operations rather than approaching it in blanket-coverage way?

There is a parallel here with airport security procedures. Yes, the security staff are employed to ensure that terrorists do not board planes and blow passengers to smithereens. But you do not catch major terrorists by confiscating bottles of shampoo from grannies. You catch them by intelligence. And I mean that in all senses of the word.

Osama bin Laden was not tracked down by a defensive security operation, or by confiscating ladies' umbrellas as allegedly "dangerous objects" if they are tapered into a point. The suicide bomb mastermind was located by meticulous and focused intelligence.

I was persuaded of the effectiveness of intelligence work when I was researching the life of William Joyce, known as 'Lord Haw-Haw' at the British Public Record Office. When World War Two broke out on September 3, 1939, British intelligence had information on every single fascist in the country.

Every member of the British Union of Fascists and of the various breakaway splits such as Joyce's own tiny national-socialist group had been identified. There was nothing they didn't know about home-grown fascist groups, and the authorities swooped at dawn to incarcerate them as a danger to the state (including Desmond Guinness's mother, Diana Mosley, nee Mitford, who was breast-feeding her baby Max at the time). Joyce, as it happened, got away to Germany at the end of August because he had been tipped off by a spymaster inside MI5.

Most of this intelligence was gathered by PC Plod going around the country attending every fascist meeting and quietly making notes. It was the build-up of intelligence that provided information about likely trouble-makers or possible collaborators.

Intelligence is the key to identifying those who might organise a dangerous or suicidal attack, not only on notable celebrities, but on the unsuspecting public. Thank God the gardai did, by such means, deter a possible atrocity at Maynooth -- when an explosive device could have killed innocent students. By the same token, a bomb attack was similarly halted at Derry over the weekend.

One of the gardai directing security operations at Islandbridge told me: "We have to treat everyone the same." Again, she couldn't have been more polite about the various screenings that went on, but, at a level of policy-making, I think this is a mistaken philosophy. It is absurd to treat everyone the same: it wastes time and resources.

You must, of course, ensure that anyone going into a vulnerable area is bona fide and properly checked out: but intelligence is not about treating everyone the same. It is about pinpointing the identity of those who may strike at the public, the State, or visitors. That is the key to preventing those who would attack, harm, disable and murder innocent victims.

Irish Independent

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