Security expert Dr Tom Clonan said every other country in Europe has beefed up its special forces to react to terrorist attacks and it’s “absolutely essential” that the same is done with the Army Ranger Wing (ARW).
In August 2015, then minister for defence, Simon Coveney, announced that the Government would double the size of the elite force.
He said bolstering it was a key plank in the State’s counter-terrorism measures and this policy was enshrined in a White Paper on defence.
However, the Irish Examiner can reveal there has been little or no expansion in the specialist unit since Mr Coveney made the promise.
In fact, the ARW is far smaller than it was during the height of the Troubles.
Dr Clonan said that international terrorists are constantly looking for weakness and that is why every other country in Europe is beefing up its counter-terrorism forces.
He said he was “very disappointed” to learn that no progress had been made.
“It’s an absolute must have. It’s absolutely essential in the evolving picture of terrorism. To be operationally ready on a 24/7 basis they need increased numbers,” he said.
Dr Clonan said the Department of Justice has increased Garda armed units and identified the threat.
“But it’s quite different from the Garda response units can do compared to the ARW. They’re an iron fist in a velvet glove,” he said.
Dr Clonan said that ARW could be tasked to deal with hijackings on aircraft or ferries.
“That’s the kind of intervention the gardaí can’t do,” he said.
In May last year, the Defence Forces released a video of the ARW carrying out an exercise in the Irish Sea where they simulated a response to a terrorist takeover of a passenger ferry.
The ARW assaulted the ship both from the air and sea.
The elite unit has also carried out similar anti-terrorist exercises on gas rigs and other important installations.
The ARW is mainly based in The Curragh and has its own purpose built tactical training facilities, including shooting ranges and various urban and rural settings where soldiers can act out different operational scenarios.
The Department of Defence admitted that it was the intention of the 2015 White Paper on Defence to ensure measures were taken to further enhance the capabilities of the ARW, with the aim of increasing its strength considerably.
In a statement is said “work to identify a range of options is ongoing with a military/civilian team currently actively working on the project”.
It added that Minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, was committed to ensuring this happens, but was unable to provide a timeframe.