Former justice minister Dermot Ahern has said he is surprised that the radicalisation of Irish Islamic State bride Lisa Smith did not ring alarm bells, given that she began the process while serving in the army.
Mr Ahern, who was Ms Smith’s local TD up to 2011, noted that she had spoken previously of the support she received from her superiors in the Irish army when she converted to Islam.
“The one thing that surprises me is that she became a Muslim when she was in the defence forces and wanted to wear a hijab and she said the senior defence force officers treated her very well.
"I suspect she wasn’t wearing a hijab in the government jet but I am surprised that, of all the people who were radicalised that she, who was in the defence forces, that it wasn’t picked up in some way,” he said.
“Ireland is a very small place,” he added.
Mr Ahern also said Ms Smith might need to rethink her wish to return to Ireland. “She’d nearly be better off not coming home because she’d be subject to an awful lot of scrutiny, and hostility and examination.” She would also be hounded by the media, he said.
Local people were also worried about having her back, he said, including his own neighbours who were caught up in the November 2015 attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed in a series of shootings and bombings claimed by IS.
Katie Healy, who grew up next door to the Aherns, and her then boyfriend and now husband, David Nolan, were in the Bataclan Theatre where 90 people were murdered. David was shot in the foot and has had to endure multiple surgeries.
Mr Ahern said he realised their fears had to be balanced with the Government’s responsibilities for all Irish citizens. “Behind her [Smith] there is a family who are extremely worried — as are the Healys,” he said.
Lisa Smith, 37, from Dundalk, served in the army and air corps before quitting in 2011. She was married for a time to a Muslim man and lived in Britain but the relationship broke down and she left in 2015 for Syria, where she married again and moved to Baghuz, the last IS stronghold which was defeated in recent weeks.
Now widowed and the mother of a two-year-old girl, she is being held in a refugee camp in Syria and has said she wants to come home. The Government has said she will be facilitated to come home and asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to assist, as it has access to the camps.
If brought home, she will be quizzed on her radicalisation, and be subject to a security assessment.