Flanagan: ‘Share flight data to combat terror’

Air passenger information should be more readily exchanged between European states in order to prevent terrorist attacks and co-operate with the US on security issues, the foreign affairs minister has said.

Charlie Flanagan has also called on the Arab League to intervene in the Middle East to open up political dialogue with failed states and prevent them from harbouring terrorists.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Examiner the Fine Gael minister gave his views about the recent Isis attacks on Irish tourists; red-line concerns about Britain’s demand for EU reform; the North, his department’s budget; as well as how his party should campaign in the general election.

Appointed a year ago as Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Flanagan has faced several challenging situations in his new role, including the collapse of talks in the North; terrorist attacks on Irish tourists; ongoing fighting in the Middle East; and concern over whether Britain will leave the EU.

Mr Flanagan said the recent Isis slaughter of three Irish tourists on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia, was an example of the “very fraught and dangerous world in which we now live”.

It would have been unimaginable years ago, he added. European ministers were meeting on a monthly basis to review the EU’s response to terrorism. He said the EU should press Arab states to intervene in territories such as Syria or Iraq, or other nations that may be supporting terrorists.

“I would like to see a greater level of dialogue between European Union states and Arab League states where it can improve relations. There are some members of the Arab League who we would exhort to use its influence in the region to help ensure the political solutions are found.

“We don’t believe it acceptable that states resort to military solutions.”

US president Barack Obama has flagged with Enda Kenny the issue of terrorist fighters from war zones travelling to Ireland and onwards to the US.

During their St Patrick’s Day meeting in the White House, Mr Obama said the two discussed the “importance of stemming the flow of foreign fighters both to Ireland and the United States and the rest of Europe” and he thanked Mr Kenny for his co-operation on this.

Mr Flanagan, commenting on Mr Obama’s reference to “stemming the flow of fighters”, said it was important that information be exchanged at the highest level between Ireland and the US. “We have a number of agencies and bodies specifically engaged in that process,” he said.

“I believe it is important that if we have information that might ever assist in preventing a terrorist attack, it is my belief we should share information with our European colleagues and on an international stage. That’s why I’m concerned that the exchange of information with regard to air passengers is not as readily available as it should be.”

The issue of exchanging passenger flight data will come before the European Parliament this autumn. Mr Flanagan is pressing Irish Fine Gael MEPs to push colleagues to support the directive, despite concern from other states over data privacy. The issue of sharing data on air passengers comes at a time when the EU is addressing the threat of ‘foreign fighter’ citizens who come home after fighting in the Middle East.

Ireland views the passenger name records proposal as a priority. Mr Flanagan said Ireland and the US were co-operating at “the highest level, among our police intelligence. If we have grounds for suspicion, then we will share that information and data with our EU colleagues.

“I believe it is a process that should continue and intensify,” he said.

He said there were at least 35 Irish citizens with “terrorist connections” who had travelled to war zones. But the Laois-Offaly TD emphasised the need to engage with minority groups here.

“There is a need to reach out to minority communities here and pursue a policy of integration and prevent any isolation that could cause radicalisation.”


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