The Government is introducing offences to stop Irish people travelling abroad to fight for terrorist groups, such as Islamic State and other jihadist militants.
The Department of Justice has begun to draft legislation which will impose possible significant prison terms in a bid to combat foreign terrorist fighters.
Belarus-born and naturalised Irish citizen Alexandr Rusmatovich Bekmirzaev was detained by Kurdish troops in Syria this month, accused, along with four other foreigners, of fighting with IS.
Official figures estimate around 30 Irish citizens have gone to fight with militant groups in Syria and Iraq. While the number is small, the ratio per head of population (seven per 1m) is higher than Spain (three per 1m) and similar to Germany (nine per 1m), though significantly lower than France (26 per 1m), Belgium (42 per 1m), and Sweden (31 per 1m).
Garda sources have pointed out that many of the Irish fighters joined military factions fighting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad or IS. Gardaí have said one of their policies is to engage with those they know are going out, but that their legal powers are limited.
What has happened to the 30-odd that went out is not yet clear, but some five are thought to have been killed.
The Government’s Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill seeks to give effect to a 2017 EU directive.
A Department of Justice spokesman said preparation of a draft general scheme is at an early stage.
The directive lists three main new offences: Receiving training for the purpose of terrorism; travelling for the purpose of terrorism; and organising/facilitating travel for this purpose.
A note of the provisions by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service says many of the provisions in the directive are covered by Irish legislation, including: Participating in, or directing, a terrorist group; provocation to commit a terrorist offence; recruitment for terrorism; and terrorist financing offences.
The paper, written by parliamentary researcher Daniel Hurley, says that while there is a provision in relation to providing training for terrorist offences under the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, the necessary ministerial regulations have never been brought in.
In relation to the three new offences in the directive (travelling, receiving training, and facilitating) there is no specific offence in Irish law.
The note says one issue warranting consideration in relation to receiving training is “self-taught methods” where the person is acting alone.
It states that the offences of travelling and facilitating travelling for the purpose of terrorism “also pose difficulties” in relation to prosecution.
It notes concerns have been raised that the offences are not too broad as to restrict journalists or humanitarian workers.
“In order to satisfy the legality principle of Irish constitutional law, and to ensure that any chilling effects relating to legitimate purposes are limited, it would be preferable if clear and precise legislation were adopted,” states the note.
It says another issue is the ability of Irish authorities to gather evidence in relation to foreign terrorist fighters and that internet-based evidence and cross-border legal co-operation “would be of particular relevance”.
Ireland will not be ready to access an EU-wide security database for another year, the Department of Justice has said.
The Schengen Information System provides members states with information on criminals, terrorists as well as missing children and vulnerable adults.
Gardaí are working with European Commission officials in developing the system here and the department estimates it will be ready by the end of the year and operational soon after.
“Ireland is currently working on implementing the Schengen Information System,” said a department spokesman.
“The implementation project is well underway and is progressing well. Ireland underwent its first Schengen Evaluation in November, on that occasion in the subject of data protection.”
New rules on the Schengen Information System were introduced at the end of last year, in which member states were obliged to introduce terrorism alerts – meaning that anyone posting a threat should not go unnoticed anymore.
The upgraded database is aimed at helping border guards to better manage who is crossing EU borders, support police and law enforcement in capturing criminals and terrorists and provide greater protection for missing children and vulnerable adults.