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Ireland's terror risk: Where does the country rank on the terror alert scale?

In short, we don’t actually use one.

Armed gardai from the Eastern Region Armed Response Unit. (File)
Armed gardai from the Eastern Region Armed Response Unit. (File)
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

SINCE THE TERROR attacks in Paris, the Irish government’s line on the threat level facing this country has been that an attack is “possible but not likely”.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said that this assessment is the same as that which pertained prior to the 13 November attack, and indeed the subsequent alerts in Brussels.

The conclusion is that there is no need, therefore, to raise Ireland’s threat level.

“There’s no specific information at present that suggests we need to change the threat level. If that information became available, then clearly we would do that,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with RTÉ last week.

But if the threat level were to increase, what would it change to?

Well, that’s unclear because unlike some other nations, Ireland’s security services do not use a standard scale of threat levels.

MI5 in the UK have five separate levels of threat that are colour coded and are published both on their website and that of the Home Office.

They are:

Low – an attack is unlikely.
Moderate – an attack is possible but not likely.
Substantial – an attack is a strong possibility.
Severe – an attack is highly likely.
Critical – an attack is expected imminently.

Since 2010, MI5 has separated terrorism threats from Northern Ireland and international terrorism. Their current level of threat from international terrorism is ‘severe’.

PastedImage-73159 Source: mi5.co.uk

Although the assessment of Ireland’s threat level of “possible but not likely” matches the second lowest on the UK’s scale, this does not mean that Ireland uses this scale.

As the Department of Justice points out, the wording of their threat advice is based on a description of the threat assessment rather than a sliding scale.

“The practice here is to indicate publicly the actual nature of the threat at any given time,” the department said in a statement to TheJournal.ie.

“The nature of the threat from international terrorism is kept under constant review and its assessment is primarily a matter for An Garda Síochána.”

Paris Attacks The Fear There's been heavy security on the streets of Brussels. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The department also hints that the Paris attack on its own would not necessarily change the threat level. This is because the assessment is made based on attacks over the past year.

“The current assessment of the threat reflects, in particular, incidents of international terrorism which have taken place over the last 12 months or so,” according to a department spokesperson.

The Unites States’ Department Homeland Security previously used a colour-coded system of terrorism threat, but that was phased out in 2011.

Hsas-chart The now-defunct Homeland Security terrorist threat chart. Source: Wikimedia

The chart was often criticised for creating a feeling of panic and fear among the public. Four years ago, then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano explained that the colours were scrapped so that a new alert system could provide more detailed and useful information.

Belgium’s threat level have been the subject of much attention in the last week when the government increased it to its highest level. Their terror threat scale goes from one to four with the highest notch, representing a “serious threat of imminent attack”.

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National Security Committee

As the department outlined, Ireland’s threat assessment is made primarily by An Garda Síochána, which also operates Ireland’s security service, but a decision is made in conjunction with others as part of the State’s National Security Committee (NSC).

The NSC’s role is to keep the government informed about issues of high security.

The committee is chaired by the Taoiseach’s secretary general and comprises of the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, the secretaries general of the Departments of Justice, Defence and Foreign Affairs and the Defence Forces’ chief of staff Mark Mellett.

Annual Cross Border Organised Crime Seminar - Belfast Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Garda Siochana Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan have shown consistency in their statements. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The meetings are not attended by ministers themselves with much of the intelligence input provided by An Garda Síochána.

A spokesperson for the force says that their advice is constructed in conjunction with other international police forces.

“An Garda Síochána continues to liaise closely with our international security partners to assess any implications for Ireland arising from ongoing events on mainland Europe. Based on current intelligence assessments the threat level remains unchanged,” a garda spokesperson said this week.

Much like the minister’s comments, gardaí say the current attack threat of “possible but not likely” is subject to change based on the situation.

“Notwithstanding the current threat assessment, An Garda Síochána will keep under review the ongoing developments and will ensure that garda resources are deployed in a manner commensurate with the current security situation. The level of threat will be kept under constant review.”

Read: How is our government responding to the Paris attacks? >

Read: Travel advice for Irish citizens in France and Belgium has been updated >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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