Long-awaited Government plans to update Ireland’s terrorism laws to include a range of offences, such as travelling abroad to join terrorist groups, are still not near to being published, it has emerged.
The proposals are supposed to implement an EU directive adopted by the European Council and European Parliament in March 2017, with a deadline of being transposed into national law by September 2018.
While many of the offences outlined in the directive are already prohibited under separate Irish terrorism laws, there are three key gaps the directive would fill:
- Travelling for the purpose of terrorism
- Receiving training for terrorism
- Organising or facilitating travelling for the purpose of terrorism
In addition, the directive requires member states to establish appropriate support systems for victims of terrorism.
The Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill, which includes provisions relating to these offences, was listed in the Government’s legislative programme for the spring/summer 2018.
Last January, the Department of Justice told thethat the draft headings of the bill were at “an early stage”.
Following queries this week, the department said the plans are at a “preliminary stage”.
The delays follow predictions in recent years regarding the return of foreign terrorist fighters, who are EU citizens, from Syria and Iraq to their home countries, and whether or not member states had the necessary laws to prosecute them, including for travelling for the purpose of joining terrorist groups.
Garda estimates suggest that around 30 Irish people travelled to conflict zones, mainly in the Middle East, 16 of whom are believed to have died.
Five fighters have returned from conflict zones. Security services here have engaged with them, assessed their threat, and deemed that they no longer pose a security risk.
The phenomenon of EU citizens travelling to the Middle East has reduced with the defeat of Islamic State (IS) in Syria, but European police agencies have pointed to foreign fighters travelling to other areas, including north Africa, Ukraine, and the Philippines.
In its 2019 terrorism threat report, published last July, Europol said Ireland is one of three countries (along with Britain and Italy) where citizens have travelled to Libya and elsewhere in North Africa to fight with terrorist groups.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and branches of IS are strong in Libya, as well as neighbouring Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt.
When asked last January what the state of play was with the proposed legislation, the department said: “The Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill will give effect to the EU Directive 2017/541 on combatting terrorism which is directed at the foreign terrorist phenomenon and includes offences of travel for the purpose of committing a terrorist offence, facilitating travel for terrorism and receiving training for terrorism is included in the Government legislative programme.
Preparation of a draft general scheme is at an early stage and it is not possible to indicate, at this in time, when it will be published.
When asked this week, where the bill is at, the department said: “Work to progress the Terrorist Offences (Amendment) Bill is progressing in the Department of Justice and Equality but is currently at the preliminary stage.”
It said many of the provisions of the directive are “already largely incorporated into Irish law” through the Terrorist Offences Acts of 2005 and 2015.
It added: “It should also be noted that any transposing legislation would not apply retrospectively and that many of those who travelled to Syria, and the wider region, from an EU country during the conflict, did so prior to the introduction of the directive in 2017.”