Terrorism in Ireland?

Balaclavas in Belfast - rarely seen today, and non-indigenous extremism is even rarer
••• Balaclavas in Belfast - rarely seen today, and non-indigenous extremism is even rarer. © Bernd Biege 2015

Ireland and terrorism used to be almost synonymous for a while - at the height of the "Troubles", nobody dared to travel to Northern Ireland, and even travel in the Republic was often seen as dangerous. With reason: before the Peace Process took hold, random bombings led to immense "collateral damage", often targeting civilians on purpose. Today, the threat by dissident Republicans and Loyalists is generally lower ...

but not totally gone.

There is, however, one statistical fact - more tourists have been killed in Irish traffic, as opposed to the death toll of terrorist activities in Ireland. To spell it out: it is more dangerous to rent a car and hit the Irish roads, than it is to take a walk in West Belfast.

Then again, these days the perceived threat to the tourist's life and limb does not come from paramilitary organisations trying to force the issue of Northern Ireland. Instead, the world focusses (often in a very myopic way) on what is generally called "Islamic terrorism". Masterminded globally by such shady outfits as al-Qaeda or, increasingly, the nebulous entity calling itself Islamic State or Daesh (the Arabic acronym for IS).

With the atrocities recently committed in Paris and Brussels, it seems to be the time to ask:

How Great is the Threat of Terrorism in Ireland?

The honest answer is, and I am sorry to disappoint you: nobody knows.

The very core of terrorism is not the setting off of bombs, but fostering a climate in which a bomb becomes a possibility everywhere, every day. And as far as this goes, IS has certainly succeeded - since the Paris attacks in November 2015 a heightened level of nervousness reigns.

Still - there is no indication that there is an imminent threat of non-domestic terrorism for Ireland.

Having said that, here are a few points worth remembering at all times:

  • While there seems to be no imminent threat of non-domestic terrorism in Ireland, the ongoing threat of domestic terrorism still exists. This is partially due to paramilitary splinter groups still "continuing the fight", but also due to former or current members of paramilitary groups fighting a turf war in the lucrative "organised crime" segment.
  • While IS has released a propaganda video naming Ireland as a direct enemy in November 2015, this was as part of a group of sixty (!) nations. With no specifics given. Which may indicate no more than that IS staff can actually read Wikipedia, which has Ireland down as a "contributor" against IS.
  • While you may find a few Muslims in Ireland that are actually sympathetic to the aims and objectives of IS, the large majority abhors the atrocities committed in the name of Islam - see the website of the Irish Muslims Peace & Integration Council for more details.
  • While not being of a high profile, there are an estimated three or four dozen volunteers from Ireland fighting in the ranks of IS - this may well become problematic in the future.

In a nutshell - yes, you may do well to exercise the same caution in Ireland as you would do in Boston or Berlin.

But at the same time: no, there is no need to assume the worst, and cancel your travel plans.

What to Do If ...

If you are expecting a comprehensive guide on how to deal with a terrorist attack, this is not the place where you find it. I can only give you a few hints and guide you to official websites. Which, to confuse things further, may advocate different approaches.

Here are the basics if you are caught up in a (potential) terrorist attack:

  • If there is a security alert in the area, follow the directions of staff and police in a calm manner. This will more than likely simply mean to evacuate an area in a more or less orderly fashion, and in the quickest time possible. Do not stop to take a selfie or tweet about it ...
  • If there is a sudden commotion, if you hear shots fired, or if a detonation occurs - duck and cover. And stay down.

    Now here's where the approaches change ... and the examples from the USA and the UK are almost opposites.

    While I am a pacifist at heart, I also believe that once you have an AK47 or Armalite pointed at you, and being asked to recite a verse of the Quran or the Lord's Prayer ... that might be the right time to deviate from Gandhi's philosophy.