There is likely to be an increasing number of lone wolf, low-tech terror attacks in Europe in 2018 and we may be underestimating the danger of such an attack happening in Ireland.
There are five terror threat levels, ranging from “low” to “critical”, and despite the spate of attacks on neighbouring EU states, Ireland’s threat status remains at “moderate” , meaning that an attack is possible but unlikely.
The Department of Justice and the Garda authorities have repeatedly said that there is no intelligence to suggest anything other than a low or moderate risk, but therein lies the problem: We are the only EU state without its own dedicated national security and intelligence agency.
In the past 12 months alone there have been horrific attacks that claimed lives in London, Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm and Manchester so it would be extremely naive to think that Dublin and other Irish cities would not be regarded as targets for terror.
Unlike the sophisticated devices employed by Isis and other Islamic terror groups during large-scale attacks like that of 2015 in which 130 people died across Paris, including 89 at the Bataclan music venue, the weapons used in the past year have ranged from home-made bombs, to machetes, knives and trucks. They made be crude devices but they are just as effective in claiming innocent lives.
Last April, then taoiseach Enda Kenny called a security meeting in the wake of the Stockholm attack in which five people died. He said the gardaí were monitoring a small number of individuals “who do not have this country’s interests at heart”. Hardly reassuring, given that the killer in Stockholm targeted pedestrians as he drove a lorry into a crowded shopping street. Grafton St in Dublin doesn’t even have electronic barriers to prevent that happening.
“We are a non-aligned, non-aggressive country and though the threat is always present, it is not at a high level in Ireland and we try to keep it that way,” Mr Kenny told the Dáil, a view since echoed by Leo Varadkar.
But Sweden is also a non-aligned, non-aggressive country. Like Ireland, it is not a member of Nato but — again, like
Ireland — it is a member of the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme, making it a legitimate target for some terrorist organisation. It may also have been seen as a soft target by terrorists.
Since assuming office, Leo Varadkar promised to establish a Cobra-style committee similar to that which operates in the UK. Cobra is the British Government’s emergency response committee set up to respond to a national crisis. It comes together in moments of crisis under the chairmanship of either the prime minister or the home secretary.
A similar committee here is essential but it will still only respond to a crisis when it has happened. What we need as a matter of urgency is national intelligence agency dedicated to tracking the terror threat before disaster strikes.
We owe it to ourselves and our neighbours. Without it, we remain Europe’s weakest link in terms of security, defence and emergency response capability.