Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Ceisteanna - Questions
National Security Committee
Having regard to the confidential nature of the work of the National Security Committee, it would not be appropriate for me to disclose information about the dates of its meetings or its proceedings. The committee, which is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, comprises representatives at the highest level from the Departments of Justice 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 becoming obvious there is an ease of access to the fraudulent use of Irish passports, a passport which has particular integrity and credibility in international relations. In February this year, it emerged eight Irish passports were used fraudulently in an assassination in Dubai. This month several other Irish passports, possibly up to six, were used as a part of a Russian spy ring in the US. The concern, which I am sure the National Security Committee will consider, is the extent to which these fraudulent abuses continue and how little the Irish authorities know about them. British passports were abused in exactly the same manner in the Dubai assassination scandal and their security was increased immediately. No such security enhancement took place to protect Irish passports.
The figure for 2009 was 33,214, 6% of total issued. These are staggering figures.
Has the National Security Committee considered the ease of access to the fraudulent and illegal abuse of Irish passports? Has the committee made a recommendation that security enhancements for the protection of Irish passports should be implemented? Has it considered the implications of such large numbers of passports being reported lost or stolen?
As I stated earlier, due to the nature of the committee's meetings, it is not appropriate to disclose the information concerning its meetings or any of its proceedings. This is a matter to be directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs who has responsibility for the Passport Office. There has been a debate in the House on the specific instances referred to by the Deputy. Clearly this is an issue concerning older passports. The questions the Deputy has raised are ones that can be directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs so that the information will be available to him.
While I do not want to raise details of the matters discussed by the national security committee, the consequences of what the committee does in this case should become clear. In other words, there should be an analysis of what extra security arrangements must be made to protect the integrity of the Irish passport system. We cannot have a situation in which forged Irish passports are being used, as happened in the assassination case in Dubai. In addition, a number of Irish passports were used illegally by a Russian spy ring in the United States.
In recent days, the American President announced intelligence findings concerning at least two parcels containing explosives that were detected en route from Yemen to the United States. One of them went through Great Britain.
Some years ago, I raised a question here following reports that al-Qaeda cells were operating in this country. Given previous reports of terrorist personnel being located here, what is the Government's response to the fact that at least one of the recently discovered parcels was being sent to the USA through Great Britain? We have an interest in ensuring that freight passing through this country is screened properly. We must not have a situation where, for their own reasons, somebody presses a button on a mobile phone and a sim card explodes material. In the recent cases it was titanium in toner packages. This has serious implications for international freight activities, so I am sure the Taoiseach will convey that concern to the national security committee.
The gardaí are well aware of the international situation and the threat level involved. They are maintaining contacts with their international counterparts in this regard. The Government is determined to continue to take all necessary measures to deal with international terrorism. It will play a full part in the international efforts to counteract the threat.
As regards the specific issue raised by the Deputy, the discovery of two explosive devices on cargo aircraft bound for the United States is a very worrying development. These devices are believed to have originated in Yemen and were bound for addresses in Chicago. This bomb plot is a further indication of the ongoing threat from al-Qaeda-inspired militants.
The threat from international terrorist groups against Ireland is considered to be low. However, the situation is being monitored constantly by the Irish authorities.
The director-general of MI5 has said that there is a persistent rise in the ambition and activities of dissident groups on the island of Ireland. I know there is a very high level of co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána and between both Governments, which I fully support. More than likely, the identities of those concerned are known to the security forces. In that context, what is the Government's latest assessment of the level of dissident or treacherous activity by so-called republicans? What is the Government's analysis of the latest position?
Has the Taoiseach yet received a copy of the 24th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which is due out this month? The personnel dealing with those reports are fully acquainted with the facts as they happen on the ground.
I understand that report has come to hand recently, is being considered by Government and will be published in due course. Regarding the earlier point about dissident threats, as the Deputy has suggested there is unanimous support in the House for full co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and the Garda Síochána in these matters. The Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Garda Commissioner have confirmed that the level of co-ordination and co-operation is at an all-time high. As one would expect, they co-operate fully in these matters and the necessary resources are being applied to deal with those who would constitute a threat to the security of the State or to others in terms of paramilitary activity or paramilitary intentions. These are operational matters that the Garda Commissioner and his people deal with on an ongoing basis.
In his reply the Taoiseach stated that due to the confidential nature of the work of the National Security Committee it would not be possible to give the dates, frequency and so on of the meetings of the committee and I understand this. However, given the increased vigilance which is now being applied both in the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to the potential for and possibility of acts of international terrorism, has there been any increase in the frequency of meetings of the National Security Committee or in its work? Does the Taoiseach hold a view on the statements made in recent days by the British Home Secretary and Prime Minister, especially with regard to freight and flights from Yemen to the UK, where, as I understand it, a ban has been placed on freight from Yemen? Has any consideration been given to the source of freight entering Ireland or to any implications for security or for the shipment of freight through Ireland, especially through Irish airports? Has there been any increase in the deployment of gardaí to deal with the evidence of an increased threat from dissident republicans?
Regarding the third question, as the Deputy is aware these are operational matters. The Commissioner deploys resources as required and he does not communicate on an ongoing basis as to what resources are being deployed for obvious reasons and for fear that people might regard that as increasing the possibility of abduction or the possibility of being found to be doing things they should not be doing. These are operational matters with which the Commissioner deals all the time and resources are applied as required. The Deputy will be aware generally that the security services in Ireland are working very closely to seek to have these people thwarted in any of their activities or planning.
Regarding the question of cargo, as a result of what happened in recent days and the implications if any in Ireland, it is a matter in the first instance for my colleague the Minister for Transport. All Irish airports with regular commercial flights are required to comply with the requirements of the EU regulations on aviation security and the national civil aviation security programme. Aviation security practices and procedures implemented at Irish airports, including those related to cargo, conform to EU common rules and to the highest standards internationally. These practices and procedures are subject to monitoring by the Department of Transport and are also the subject of periodic reviews by international organisations such as the EU Commission and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
It is not the practice of the Minister to comment on specific security measures currently in place or that may be implemented at Irish airports or on monitoring activities carried out by his Department. Aviation security arrangements at Irish airports are kept under continuous review by the Department of Transport and the National Civil Aviation Security Committee, which is chaired by a senior official from that Department. The committee comprises representatives of Departments, the State and regional airports, airlines, the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, Customs and Excise, An Post, the Irish Aviation Authority and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association. Everyone must take cognisance of these worrying developments and must liaise with the various international organisations with whom they normally deal in order to put in place, if required, any further scrutiny advisable in the circumstances.
I appreciate that the Taoiseach cannot go into great detail with regard to levels of security and police co-operation on these matters. In respect of the increased potential for acts of international terrorism and with regard to the increase in dissident activity, has there been an increase in the level of political contact between Ministers here and in Britain? Has there been an increase in political contact at a European level with a view to addressing these threats?
I am not specifically aware there has been ministerial contact in recent days in respect of what happened but there has been official contact. Reviews are immediately put in place when something as serious as this happens. There are procedures and protocols under various international conventions. These kick in very quickly in light of the sensitivity of the aviation industry to issues such as this. Ireland is in compliance with these and is an active participant in them.
Can the Taoiseach advise if it is within the scope of the national security committee to consider measures such as the further civilianising of the clerical and administrative roles within the Garda Síochána in order to maximise the release of trained officers to various policing responsibilities directly within the community and in any of the contexts described? If it is within the scope, has it been given serious consideration? Does the Taoiseach expect further action will be taken in that regard?
It is not the practice of the national security committee to discuss operational matters. The committee only deals with the question generally of what needs to be done with an issue that arises and what liaison is taking place. It is not a question of getting into detail about policy implementation on civilianisation and matters of that nature.
As I stated in a previous reply, the assessment is that the threat of the use of Ireland for such purposes is regarded as low but that is not to say there is a sense of complacency or that there is not activity in surveillance and monitoring.