468. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the rising threat of fundamental Islamic terrorism with origins in the EU; the actions that are being taken by the Irish Government to address and guard against such a threat; the measures in place to guard against the spread of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1658/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): There is obvious and considerable concern across Europe and elsewhere in relation to the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. The events in Paris last week are a stark illustration of the reality of this situation.
However it is important that any response Ireland might make in a national context is proportionate.
An Garda Síochána monitors the movements of those suspected of involvement in extremist behaviour. The number of Irish citizens who are believed to have travelled to the conflict zones since the commencement of the Arab Spring is estimated at between 25 and 30. However, within that number are individuals who would have travelled to Libya and other Arab States to take part in the popular uprisings there which began in December 2010. Others travelled for humanitarian or family reasons. Nonetheless some are also known to have participated in the various conflicts and at least three have lost their lives.
There are also a number of individuals who have returned from the conflict zones and a small number of people based here who support extremism and would try to facilitate it. The activities of these people are closely monitored by An Garda Síochána and there is very close cooperation with security services in other jurisdictions. It would be counterproductive to go into what specific intelligence is available.
In line with best practice internationally An Garda Síochána has engaged with returnees from the conflict areas. The Gardaí also operate a progressive community relations programme through its Racial Inter-Cultural and Diversity Office. That office is in regular contact with our minority communities and recently received favourable comment on its operation from the UN Counter Terrorism Committee.
It is also vital that the State has the necessary legislation in place to address the terrorist threat. In that context I wish to advise the Deputy that the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014 has already passed all stages in the Seanad. The Bill, when enacted, will create the three new offences of, public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism. These offences will carry sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment on conviction on indictment and are particularly pertinent to the nature of the threat posed by radicalised individuals and indeed those who incite them to commit such heinous acts as those witnessed last week. It is expected that the Bill will go before the Dáil next month and that it will be passed shortly thereafter.
In an international context, Ireland has been active on this issue for some time now. Indeed priority was given to the matter during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013. In that connection Ireland was successful in gaining the agreement of the Member States to carry out a review of the EU Strategy for Countering Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism. A primary point of focus in this review is the foreign fighter issue. A number of initiatives at EU level have since been developed for member States to combat this phenomenon including community relations initiatives, media campaigns, enhanced tracking of suspects' movements, engagement with third countries (notably Turkey) and engagement with internet service providers and social media companies to curb radical online content.
Within the EU framework the Government has consistently supported the availability of airline Passenger Name Records (PNR) data to law enforcement services, subject to the appropriate safeguards. The proposed EU Directive on PNR is an important measure in the ongoing fight against terrorism and serious crime. While agreeing a PNR Directive has proved a very contentious policy area from the European Parliament’s point of view, this Government's strong preference is for an agreed EU framework for PNR and we will continue to work with our colleagues in other EU Member States to reach an agreement on this matter. The sole and shared aim of this Directive is, after all, to ensure the safety of our citizens .