Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions
National Security Committee.
Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach when the interdepartmental group established to monitor the threat of a terrorist attack will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28209/06]
Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach the membership of the National Security Committee; the number of times it met since July 2006; the number of meetings planned for the remainder of 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28324/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 17, inclusive, together.
As the work of the National Security Committee is confidential, it would not be appropriate for me to disclose information about the dates of its meetings and proceedings. The committee, which is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, comprises representatives at the highest level from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Defence and Foreign Affairs, and the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. It is concerned with ensuring the Government and I are advised of high level security issues and the responses to them, but not operational security matters. The committee will continue to meet as required. As well as attending meetings, the members of the committee liaise on an ongoing basis to monitor developments which might have national security implications, particularly in the international arena.
It is obvious that yesterday's report that up to six Islamic terrorist cells were operating in Ireland in 2003 is quite disturbing. The groups in question were delivering financial and logistical support to terrorist groups abroad. We have raised this matter in the House on a number of occasions. If I recall correctly, the Taoiseach said on one occasion that members associated with al-Qaeda were being watched, or being kept under some sort of observation, here in Dublin. Was the Taoiseach or the Government given briefings on this matter by the US Government? If the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, or homeland security representatives were aware of Islamic terrorist groups operating throughout the world they would have evidence relating to Ireland.
How did this information come into the public domain? Did it come to the Garda or Army via American security sources? When such information is passed on to Government does the Garda, for instance, have control over whether it becomes declassified?
Can the Taoiseach assure the House, as far as he can, that there are no Islamic terrorist cells operating in the country? Does the Taoiseach have security information on such matters and is he satisfied that there are no such clandestine cells operating here, delivering logistical and financial support to international terrorist groups?
A Taliban commander on Sky News last night said his organisation intends to wreak havoc on the families of those in the West who had destroyed the families of Taliban members. Can the Taoiseach give some reassurance in this regard?
Deputy Kenny will recall that after the events of September 2001 I mentioned on a number of occasions that the Garda was involved in operational matters relating to a small number of suspects linked to al-Qaeda. This is what has emanated from these reports which suggest there were six units associated with Islamic terrorist organisations active here. These units were described as logistical and financial cells giving operational support.
It is the responsibility of embassies around the world to inquire and report on matters of interest to their authorities. I am aware of recent media coverage of the assessment report of 2003 by the US embassy in Dublin and this assessment was based on information, gleaned mainly from Garda sources, relating to Islamic terrorist organisations. I do not wish to comment on these reports but I understand the information was supplied by the Garda and recycled.
More importantly, the monitoring and investigation of any groups suspected of engaging in or associating with terrorism is an operational matter for the Garda. I am satisfied the Garda is vigilant in fully meeting this responsibility and has reported to us, from time to time, on small groups and individuals that are being monitored. Deputies will appreciate it is not possible to address in the House the methods and strategies employed by the security services in countering such risks. There is very close co-operation between agencies dealing with security matters and the necessary resources are supplied for this purpose. Much information is gained through Europol, Interpol and the international agencies.
Thankfully the units in Ireland linked with Islamic terrorist organisations are small in number; I would not like them to be associated in any way with the Islamic community in the country and I recognise that this has not been suggested. The Islamic community in Ireland has been very responsive and co-operative in dealing with such matters and the Government and security services are always confident of the support of the Irish Islamic community in its commitment to countering activities related to terrorism. The few who are watched closely usually move into the international domain, though they do exist.
Does the Taoiseach agree there is a certain irony in that this information was secured under American freedom of information legislation and it is not something that could happen in this jurisdiction? Accepting what the Taoiseach said about the responsibility demonstrated by the Muslim community, does the Garda believe these groups still operate here? Can the Taoiseach tell us anything about the current assessment of the risk, if any, posed as a consequence?
This report was presented in such a way as to suggest there were six units associated with Islamic terrorist organisations in operation. I did not see the full text of the documents, but one would think it referred to six active cells. However, on further reading one will find that it referred to people who showed operational support. It refers mainly to logistical and financial support and to a limited number of people who move around. This is not what the reports suggested. The manner is which this was reported and the response it got shows the danger of releasing such information.
As I understand it, a small number of people are closely watched and monitored. These are considered to be highly classified people that come and go from this country.