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Friday 22 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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Terror in Ireland 'We face a new threat and we must be imaginative in how we use the arms of State'
It’s not that long ago when my generation of soldier played a full part in securing the State as part of Aid to the Civil Power operations, writes Declan Power.

THE RECENT ATTACKS in Barcelona have led to the usual clamour about installing retractable bollards in every town and city throughout Ireland.

However, this seems to ignore the reality of what is needed to combat such an attack, an effective and timely police and military response as carried out in the UK and elsewhere.

While the best defence against such attacks are preventative measures including intelligence led operations and community policing, once an attack occurs the State must respond with the appropriate level of lethal force.

More than effective

In Ireland we have two special forces-type assets to exercise that force, the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the Army Ranger Wing (ARW).

No one who has dealt with them doubts the capacity and efficiency of the ERU. They have shown themselves to be more than effective foes in combatting organised crime and taking down dissident republican terrorists. However, in a small country like ours, we must maximise our assets and learn from best practice.

In other European countries, in particular the UK, it has been standard procedure to mix police and SAS teams when doing raids as police forces rarely have the explosive or technical expertise that a military unit can bring.

The police still have primacy, but the SAS operators provide expertise in ECM (electronic counter measures, that is interrupting detonation of booby traps) and use of specialised explosive charges to effect entry to buildings being raided.

In addition they also supply a range of medics trained in battle-field first aid who are skilled with applying such aid while still in volatile and combat situations.

The ARW and ERU do not exercise together

At the moment, the ARW and ERU do not exercise together and only are familiar with the others’ operating procedures on an informal ad hoc basis.

The ARW are still considered the primary state asset to call on to deal with a hijacked airliner or prison hostage situation. They were considered the primary special forces entity, mainly because they had more time to train and plan for more complex scenarios.

The irony is that now, those complex scenarios could erupt in a variety of ways. The recent attacks in England and now Barcelona have swung between a complex skilled operation in Manchester to a terrifying DIY-jihadi attack in London. The Barcelona operation combined elements of both skill and a DIY approach.

Some years ago it was considered that the ARW have a more regular relationship with the ERU, even being on-call as a reserve team for more regular operations.  This was generally met with approval by relevant members within the Garda and the Defence Forces, but nothing happened.

We should be maximising our State’s skills

We should be maximising our State’s skills and expertise in this area. We recently saw an excellent full-scale Garda exercise combining unarmed and various levels of armed response to a random terror attack.

However, we can’t stop there, we now need to see this stepped up to joint army-garda exercises, including other emergency responders such as Dublin Fire Brigade and the Ambulance Service, plus other State agencies as relevant.

One area worth considering in an exercise scenario is the rapid deployment of ARW or ERU personnel from the air via helicopter to an attack, because what do we do if an attack takes place outside of Dublin?

It’s not that long ago when my generation of soldier played a full part in securing the State as part of what was called Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP) operations. Back then the close relationship between soldiers and police allowed the gardaí carry out their duties largely unarmed and so maintain a close relationship with the public.

We don’t live in those times any more, but we do face a new threat and we must be imaginative in how we use and conjoin the differing arms of State and their expertise to better react to this threat.

Declan Power is an independent security analyst and author of Siege of Jadotville. He is a former member of the Defence Forces who has worked for the EU and UN on programmes countering extremism and terrorism.

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