A lack of gardaí and a slashing of overtime budgets has limited Ireland’s ability to maintain a handle on the activities of potential Islamic extremists here.
While security sources share the view that the direct threat to Ireland is “low” or “possible, but unlikely”, some are concerned at the level of resources allocated to the job.
“Intelligence and surveillance is very labour intensive and resources have been low,” said a security source.
He said vacancies in the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) section of the Garda Special Detective Unit have either not been filled or partly filled, by taking from the frontline.
However, the biggest blow has been the successive cuts to overtime, which enable undercover gardaí conduct surveillance on suspects.
“Overtime has been slashed and that is a huge issue,” he said.
“Numbers in the area have always been low, but that has been traditionally supplemented by overtime.”
He said a recruitment campaign was underway to fill vacancies in specialist units.
CTI is thought to have around 30 to 40 members, operating over five shifts.
“The job entails looking at specific targets that we know of, and identifying those we don’t know of,” said the source.
For example, this can include situations where they see a known suspect on the street with another person.
The job is to identify that person, often as simply as conducting a ‘cold stop’ on the street and having a chat with them.
It could involve following them, checking where they live, where they sign on, stopping them in their car.
“I can’t say we have a handle on all of them, but we are working on it,” said the source.
Figures cited by official and academic sources estimate that around 30-40 Irish people have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq.
A second security source stressed that not all of these are jihadists and that some have gone there for humanitarian reasons.
It is not clear how many have since returned to Ireland.
“The biggest threat is from these,” said a third source, a senior detective, “people with military training and experience coming back.”
It is understood that CTI has its own informants in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources, operated by the Crime and Security Section at Garda HQ.
The sources who spoke to the Irish Examiner believe the risk here is low.
“We have profiled those involved in logistics, training, and funding and there might be threats to embassies,” said one source, “but I can’t see us open to an attack, at the moment.”
He said the one risk, a risk mentioned by Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, may be from so-called lone wolves.
“You can’t legislate for a madman or a fanatic,” he said.
“We saw in Louth last month a person radicalised, in that case a dissident republican, who decided to take a life.
“If it’s a group of terrorists there might be intelligence about them, but a lone wolf acting on his own, how do you prepare for that?’
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