Terror fear claims are alarmist, says O’Dea

DEFENCE Minister Willie O’Dea yesterday dismissed as “alarmist” claims by chief fire officers that our emergency services could not cope with a London-style terrorist attack.

The minister said all intelligence shows that the risk of terrorist attack on Ireland is quite low and we have a first-class security system to deter any terrorist attack.

He was responding to the Chief Fire Officers Association chairman Tony Gleeson who said the Irish fire service has not been given a defined role like their London counterparts for terrorist attacks.

"The London fire service went in with biological protection suits and there were certain other provisions evident to show that they had planned well ahead what to do," Mr Gleeson added.

And he said there is no capacity to "scale up" an operation if there was an incident in Dublin. If staff were needed from surrounding countries, there is no formal structure to allow that happen quickly.

But Mr O'Dea, who is responsible for chairing the Government's Task Force on Emergency Planning Committee, said: "This is just alarmist, we have an outstanding emergency plan in place that will deal with any contingency but there is no such thing as 100% security," Mr O'Dea added.

The minister said chief fire officers are represented on every local authority who in turn are represented by the Department of the Environment on the Task Force on Emergency Planning Committee.

Details about co-ordinating the country's fire service response will be ironed out at the Task Force's meeting on Wednesday, he said.

"This Task Force has been working flat out to ensure that we head something off before it happens and our response to the recent tragic school bus crash in Navan showed how well this worked," Mr O'Dea said.

But Irish officials will be sent to London this week to talk with the emergency services there to see if we can learn anything from them, the minister added.

And he is also seeking Cabinet approval this week for a booklet to be sent to every household nationwide outlining what emergency plans are in place to deal with a terrorist attack.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he does not believe that Shannon Airport would be targeted by terrorists because it's used by US troops on the way to Iraq.

But after it emerged yesterday that a knife was taken through passenger checks at Shannon without detection, Mr O'Dea said they would also consider reviewing security there at Wednesday's Task Force meeting.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said gardaí and defence forces were closely monitoring terrorist suspects in the Republic, but he believed there was only a small number of suspects who were not that active.

Ita also emerged yesterday that the Taoiseach had raised the issue of identity cards with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a meeting before the London bomb attacks.

The Taoiseach reiterated his condemnation of the London bomb attacks yesterday.

He said the acts of terrorism were an assault on every person and the thoughts and prayers of the Irish people are with Britain.

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