Garda security services have seized almost 160kg of explosives and arrested more than 90 people in operations targeting dissident republicans in the last four years.
Details on the operations emerged as the force’s top intelligence chief raised concerns at increased capability among dissident republicans in their use of explosives and a recent “spike” in activity.
Michael O’Sullivan also said that while there is some concern over Brexit and its impact on the continuation of the exchange of policing information between gardaí and the PSNI — running at almost 80,000 exchanges a year — the sharing of national security information will not be affected by Brexit, no matter what form it takes, as it lies outside EU jurisdiction.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the assistant commissioner for security and intelligence said An Garda Síochána are beginning a new expansion of their section after a government plan to implement last year’s Policing Commission report, which recommended the section have a ringfenced budget and be able to recruit external experts directly.
In an area traditionally wrapped in secrecy, Mr O’Sullivan revealed that the entire Security and Intelligence Section, including operational, intelligence, surveillance, and armed units, had a current strength “in excess of 700” people.
The entire division includes Security and Intelligence in Garda HQ, Liaison and Protection, the National Surveillance Unit, the Special Detective Uni,t and Strategic Tactical Operational Command, which includes the Emergency Response Unit and regional Armed Support Units.
Mr O’Sullivan said different sections of Security and Intelligence are involved in “almost every major criminal investigation” in addition to security operations.
He said figures for security operations led by the Special Detective Unit, often with the assistance of the Security and Intelligence unit, the National Surveillance Unit, and the Strategic Tactical Operational Command between 2015 and 2019, show the following seizures/arrests:
The Clonmel Circuit Court case was the result of a joint operation with the FBI involving conspiracy to import guns and explosives over the darknet. Thomas Bates, aged 51, of Cahir, Co Tipperary, got a six-year sentence.
A key conviction was of Real IRA and Óglaigh na hÉireann leader Seamus McGrane in 2017, the second dissident to be sentenced for directing terrorism.
Last February, Kevin Braney, leader of the New IRA in the Republic, was convicted of the murder of Real IRA man Peter Butterly in a case that hinged on a National Surveillance Unit bugging operation.
Mr O’Sullivan said the dissident groups still lack capability, compared to the Real IRA in the 1990s.
However, he added: “There is evidence recently that that capability is improving somewhat.”
On any link to Brexit, he said: “It may have some impact, but I don’t think it’s a big impact. I think we would be looking at these type of activities anyway.”