Varadkar: Irish woman detained in Syria has right to return to Ireland

Lisa Smith

The Irish woman who went to Syria to join Isis will be allowed to return to Ireland despite serious concerns over the safety of the wider public from supporters of the group coming home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said while Lisa Smith went to live in Isis-controlled parts of Syria, tearing up her citizenship would not be "the right or compassionate thing to do".

It emerged over the weekend that 37-year-old Co Louth woman Ms Smith, who previously worked on the Government jet and is a defence forces graduate, left for war-torn Syria a number of years ago.

Now a mother of a two-year-old child, she was arrested by Syrian authorities earlier this month as Isis-controlled territories in the country crumble.

Her case is similar to that of 19-year-old Londoner Shamina Begum, who Britain last month said will not be allowed to return to the UK and had her citizenship revoked.

However, speaking to reporters in Dublin on Monday, Mr Varadkar said despite concerns over the safety of the wider public Ms Smith has the right to return to Ireland with her child.

"Going to Syria or going to live in what was called Islamic State is not in itself an offence or a crime. So we will need to carry out an investigation.

"I know the authorities there will want to interrogate her to see if she has been involved in any crimes there. But it’s very possible that she wasn’t a combatant, for example.

"We really need to get to the bottom of the facts here, to carry out a security assessment to see if the Syrian authorities want to carry out a prosecution or not.

"But ultimately this is an Irish citizen and we don’t believe that removing an Irish citizen’s citizenship from her or her family, rendering them stateless, would be either the right or compassionate thing to do.

As an Irish citizen, she will have the right to return to Ireland as will her child. But as an Irish citizen, it’s not just as simple as coming here and everything proceeding as if nothing had happened.

"We’ll make sure that if she does return to Ireland, that she isn’t a threat to anybody here either," Mr Varadkar said.

Concerns have grown over the potential return of Isis members to European nations in recent weeks due to the collapse of Isis-controlled regions.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner at the EU-Arab League summit in Egypt last month, Mr Varadkar said it would be "bad practice to revoke somebody's citizenship" as it would render them stateless and leave them to be somebody else's problem".

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