A file not yet, as far as we know, on Leo Varadkar’s desk is one marked Jihadi Returners, so the question as to what the Government should do with, or to, any who say they want to come home to Ireland is hypothetical.
The scale of the problem, if a problem it becomes, is not clear. The Taoiseach thinks there might be just one Irish jihadi terrorist, who might no longer be alive.
Estimates by the Garda, Interpol and the Justice department are higher; between 30 and 50. The whereabouts of the only named IS terrorist with an Irish passport, Alexandr Bekmirzaev, is unknown.
That some of those stranded in Syria — either in refugee camps or in the custody of the Kurdish militias that have done so much destroy the IS caliphate — will want to return is not unlikely, so it is reassuring to know that Mr Varadkar has been thinking about the Government’s options if and when he finds that file in his in-tray, as others in government offices in the US and across Western Europe have done.
His initial responses are entirely reasonable, which is what is expected of the leader of a civilised country with a government system based on the rule of law. He would be “very loath” to take citizenship away from somebody — as the UK’s home secretary has done in one case — if they were a citizen by right or had acquired that status legitimately.
Doing that he says would make them someone else’s problem, something no decent government would want to do. However, he tells the Irish Examiner these can be complex situations, since the rights of individuals have to be balanced with the safety of the wider public. His inclination is to let them return, adding wisely that these decisions would depend on individual circumstances.
Many readers, thinking about the Taoiseach’s comments, will with much justification want to know more about the rights IS terrorists, and their wives and supporters, are said to have. Call us old fashioned, they might exclaim, but what has happened to the responsibility bit of the equation?
Do they have the right of return to a society they say they hate and have pledged to destroy? Should our door be open to people, whatever citizenship they claim, who have committed, abetted or condoned crimes against humanity, people such as the British woman who admits to being unfazed by the sight of severed heads and who justifies the Manchester attack that killed 23 people and injured 139 as “fair” retaliation for air strikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
One way of solving the rights and responsibilities puzzle would be to conclude, firstly, that such people, even those with legitimate Irish citizenship, do not have an automatic right to return, but then, holding one’s nose, take them back, accepting that our government has a responsibility to ensure that they do not become a problem — or trash, as the Kurds describe them — left for another country to deal with.
Putting them through interrogations that might lead to prosecutions, convictions and imprisonment so as to ensure public safety would be costly and profoundly unpopular. There would be no votes in it. There would, however, be no alternative for an enlightened society.