Kevin Doyle: 'State will likely have to pick up tab to bring Lisa Smith and her son home'
Two weeks ago in Egypt, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was thrown a left-field question about whether Ireland should take back citizens who had gone abroad to support terrorist groups.
Amid endless queries about the latest Brexit developments, he could not have anticipated the inquiry, but he had no hesitation in giving an answer. He said this country shouldn't expect our citizens "to be somebody else's problem".
The Taoiseach confidently added that he would be "very loath to revoke anyone's citizenship provided they are a citizen by right or acquired their citizenship appropriately".
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The question was asked in the context of British schoolgirl Shamima Begum, who ran away to join Isil in 2015.
She had appealed for public sympathy following the birth of her son, leading to a massive debate in the United Kingdom as to whether she should be allowed to return. The UK government has moved to revoke her citizenship.
Sources told the Irish Independent last night that Mr Varadkar was not aware of the case of Lisa Smith when being quizzed by the media in Sharm El-Sheikh.
However, a select few in the Department of Defence were well aware of the former Air Corps officer who also migrated to Syria in 2015.
She is one of half-a-dozen Irish passport holders still believed to be in the region, and had occasionally popped up on their radar.
Most recently, she had been in contact with Ireland trying to raise funds to flee Syria.
Mr Varadkar will now face the same question again from a different source and in a very different context.
Smith is believed to be in the custody of American troops who are working with the Kurds in northern Syria.
Last month, US President Donald Trump threatened to release 800 captured extremists unless European allies agreed to accept them home and put them on trial.
"The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 [Isil] fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial," Mr Trump wrote.
"The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them."
Ireland wasn't on his list because, like most of us, he would have assumed very few people had left here to support Isil.
However, contacts between officials in Dublin and Washington are expected to continue this weekend in a bid to establish how to deal with Smith.
It's even possible that the issue will come up when Mr Varadkar visits the White House as part of the St Patrick's Day festivities next Thursday.
Based on their public statements, the two leaders will come to an arrangement - but the real political debate could take place back in the Dáil and on the airwaves.
The decision by Theresa May's government to strip Begum of her UK citizenship (on the basis she is of Bangladeshi heritage) has sparked a massive row there.
London's Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned the move "risks creating a second class of citizenship - one that can be removed at the whim of a politician".
But the Irish approach is closer to that being adopted by the French and Germans, who have indicated they are prepared to take back their former jihadis.
Like in the case of Begum, there is no evidence that Smith took part in any conflict. She may well have been simply living as a housewife.
It is believed the Dundalk woman had been attempting to raise funds in recent weeks to get to Turkey along with her two-year-old, who is automatically entitled to Irish citizenship.
If Mr Varadkar is true to his word, the Irish State may well now find itself picking up the tab for her return.