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. This cautious approach to travel in Ireland was well warranted at the time because 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 much lower but not entirely non-existent.
There is, however, one statistical fact that bears repeating when it comes to the risk of violence in Ireland: more tourists have been killed in Irish traffic, as opposed to the death toll of terrorist activities in Ireland. In other words, the threat of terrorism is so low that 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 organizations trying to force the issue of Northern Ireland. Instead, the world focuses (often in a very myopic way) on terrorism that originates from outside of the Emerald Isle. Masterminded globally by so-called terrorist organizations, these external threats are often aimed at popular tourist destinations. With the atrocities committed in recent years in other parts of Europe, it is natural to wonder about the risk in Ireland. However, there is no indication that there is an imminent threat of non-domestic terrorism for Ireland.
The Threat of Terrorism in Ireland
The honest answer is, and I am sorry to disappoint you no one knows the real global risk of indiscriminate attacks. They could technically happen anywhere, including in Ireland. 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.
At the same time, there is currently no direct evidence of any imminent threat in Ireland or Northern 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.
- 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. There were no specifics given and the video is quite old at this point. Ireland is not named in more recent propaganda.
- While it is possible that some individuals in Ireland are actually sympathetic to the aims and objectives of IS, the large majority of citizens of all religious backgrounds abhor 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 have been an estimated three or four dozen volunteers from Ireland fighting in the ranks of IS over the past several years.
To summarize, it is a good idea to exercise the same caution in Ireland as you would do in Boston or Berlin or any global destination. But at the same time: no, there is no need to assume the worst, and cancel your travel plans. The Prime Minister of Ireland recently said that Ireland is as prepared as any other country when it comes to counter-terrorism.
What to do
There is no need to cancel or postpone any travel plans to Ireland because of threat of terrorism. More information on what do to in the unlikely event of an attack depends on what official source you prefer to follow.
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 for any reason or attempt to document the situation.
- 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.
- The police in the United Kingdom handed out leaflets telling people to "Run, Hide, and Tell", basically reiterating the two points above, then requesting witnesses to phone the incident in. And wait.
- In contrast, the FBI goes that one critical step further, by advocating "Run. Hide. Fight." Telling us that as a last resort, and only if our life is in danger, it might be a good idea to give the fight back a try.
Luckily, it is highly unlikely you will ever need to decide which advice to follow because the threat is so low.