Ireland has the third longest jail terms for convicted terrorists in the EU, according to a report.
Irish courts handed out average prison sentences of 12 years in 2013, compared to an EU average of around 10 years.
Ireland is third behind Greece (27 years) and Spain (14), but ahead of Britain (nine), France (seven), and Denmark (six).
Europol, the EU’s police agency, said that “greater sophistication, incremental learning, and lethal intent” was evident among dissident republicans in 2013.
In its 2014 Terrorism Situation Report, the agency said the main groups of concern were the New IRA (which formed in 2012 following a merger of the Real IRA, vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs, and a number of affiliated groups); Óglaigh na hÉireann, and the Continuity IRA.
It said that, despite its small size, Óglaigh na hÉireann posed “a serious threat”, due to its “capability, willingness, and intent to kill members of the security forces” in the North.
It said this was demonstrated by several incidents attributed to it in 2013. These include the placing of a viable improvised explosive device in a hijacked car and ordering the driver to transport it to Belfast City centre.
In that incident, which took place on November 24, the car was carrying 30kg of explosives and driven to Victoria Shopping Centre. It partially exploded late at night, but nobody was injured.
The report said dissidents in the Republic were “actively involved in fundraising, training, engineering improvised explosive devices, procurement, storage, and occasionally using it as a launch base for attacks” on the North.
In March 2013, a tip-off from gardaí thwarted a major mortar attack on a PSNI station in Derry City. Officers stopped a van carrying four primed mortars outside the city after being informed by gardaí.
In July of that year, gardaí seized more than 15kg of Semtex explosive, as well as a machine gun, handguns, shotguns, three pipe-bombs, and one grenade when they raided a house in Cloghran, north Dublin.
The threat has continued this year, with two sizeable bombs seized by the Special Detective Unit last month, one in Louth and another in west Dublin.
Both improvised explosive devices were constructed in beer kegs. Gardaí suspect both were destined for the North.
The Europol report noted that the number of terrorist arrests here fell to 41 in 2013, from 66 in 2012. There were 69 arrests in 2011; 61 in 2010; and 31 in 2009.
It is not clear why there was a significant reduction in arrests in 2013 given the extent of Garda operations and high-profile seizures.
Elsewhere in the report, Europol noted that more people (216) were arrested for religiously inspired terrorism in the EU in 2013 than separatist terrorism (180) and that the former had been increasing since 2011. Nobody was arrested for religious terrorism in Ireland.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved