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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Back to the future in Irish political life

A FEW years back, the New York Times came up with the ideal person for the type of economy which governs the western world.
What kind of individual could maximise how he or she contributed to the consumer economy?
The result, when everything was considered, was a man suffering from cancer and going through a divorce.

Such an individual would be greasing a wagon load of consumer wheels. His illness would generate work in the health service, and possibly also require the services of a psychologist. He may be absent from work for an extended period which would provide work for a replacement. The productive replacement would then be in a position to make his or her contribution to consuming.
                                                                    Fr Sean Healy
On the divorce front, our friend would be engaging legal services, not to mention an estate agent to find him a new home. He would be spending on the acquisition of a property, or if not, on rent. That in turn would contribute to the property market.
So, such an individual, going through a deep trough in human experience, would be just the job for the economy — his life transformed into a highly productive economic unit. He might even get an award for his contribution to the economy, if he managed to live through his various travails.
The example came to mind last week when the headlines emerged that Fine Gael’s secret weapon for the forthcoming election is to abolish the USC for all taxpayers.

That’s the central plank of the agenda on the right of Irish politics. Pay less tax because tax is to be regarded as a burden that should be continually lightened until it might simply disappear. I have no doubt that some strategist somewhere is crunching numbers to see if there’s any way income tax can be abolished.
How cutting tax will lead to greater health, contentment, wellbeing, or even jobs below a relatively high benchmark is anyone’s guess. But, the main thing is that in the short term, it will convince voters that Fine Gael is contributing to their individual coffers.

Among most on the left of Irish politics, the forthcoming election will have as its central plank another plan to do away with a basic tenet in any developed society. Ireland came late to the novel idea that we should pay for finite resources like water. If it wasn’t for the haranguing of the blessed troika, we might not have come at all to join the rest of the world in declaring that water should be measured and paid for.

The main electoral plank on the left will be to abolish water charges. Standing on a platform to actually cut rather than add taxes is highly unusual in international left wing politics, but ours, after all, is a highly unusual political culture.
The parties involved have a perfect solution: Transfer the burden of paying for water to “the rich”. That strategy is guided by the principle that ”the rich” are unlikely to vote for left-wing parties and therefore there will be no electoral cost for imposing an extra charge on that sector.

That’s where we stand as a society emerging from an existential crisis. Nothing has changed. The election will be about the economy and precious little else. Cut taxes, even though this is not a high tax country compared to our European neighbours. Purport to be able to magic a European level of services for US rates of tax. Narrow the base. Put more money in people’s pockets to allow them function as good economic units in the economy. And before long, it’s back to the future.

There will be nothing of any substance aired in relation to quality of life; the long-term goals of a society; or wider issues such as the welfare of the environment. We are, to a huge extent, simply going back to the future as if the last eight years never occurred. Ramp it up and start again with the objective of somebody else footing the bill.

There will be uncosted promises about services and general welfare issues. One of the big promises last time around was Fine Gael’s universal health insurance. As per usual, the promise wasn’t costed, and it ultimately fell on that basis.

This time around, you can bet your bottom dollar that all parties will pay lip service to improving services and quality of life, eliminating homelessness, fixing the health service, and saving the planet from climate change.
These proposals will not be costed in any kind of realistic manner for the simple reason that to do so would be to tell voters that they will be required to contribute more through tax. And that notion is to modern day elections what the plague was to the middle-ages.
There are lonely voices out there willing to grasp this issue, but they might as well by crying in the wilderness.

The economist John Fitzgerald has noted that if people want better services, as they claim to do, then no form of tax cuts should be on the agenda.

Peter McVerry pointed out last week that if the USC was to be retained, the €4bn it generates annually would eliminate homelessness in five years. Everybody in politics nods their head at that conclusion, and then quietly draws up plans to eliminate the USC for those most likely to vote for them.

Earlier this week, the director of Social Justice Ireland, Fr Sean Healy, posed four questions that should be stapled inside every front door ahead of the forthcoming election. Speaking at his organisation’s annual social policy conference, Fr Healy said that the questions that must inform public policy are:
Where does Ireland was to be in 10-15 years?
How do we propose to get there?
How do we propose to pay for it?
How do we maintain a sustainable vibrant economy through that period?
These questions should be accompanied with a word of advice. If a canvasser responds that the answers lie in either abolishing the USC or water charges, please slam the door.
The questions offer a major challenge to the political classes in demanding a view of the long-term. It would also force politicians to persuade rather than pander. And for those reasons, there is little hope of the questions being asked at all.
Instead of drawing inspiration from figures like Healy, most politicians are likely to look at the man who was a first-class vote-getter in his prime — one Bartholemew Ahern.

My abiding recollection of the 2002 and 2007 general election campaigns is the appearance in the 24 hours or so before polling day of little green diamond-shaped posters. These were tied to lamp posts all over north Dublin and, I assume, throughout the country as well, and read: “Vote Fianna Fáil. Pay Less Tax”.
To the point and to the heart of voters’ instincts. And we all know where that one ended up.
Michael Clifford

Monday, November 23, 2015

We behave as a herd rather than as sovereign individuals

"Animal spirits are what make people spend a little more, invest a little more and take a bit more risk, because they believe in the future and – as they say in sport – they back themselves.

Why do people begin to back themselves? People back themselves because other people back themselves.

What I mean by this is that we are social animals and we are profoundly influenced by the group dynamics all around us. We are easily and quite irrationally influenced by the actions of others. We behave as a herd rather than as sovereign individuals. We do things because other people do things.

This means that we are programmed to get giddy when everyone else is giddy, and also we get depressed when others get depressed. We are creatures not so much of habit but of other people’s habits."

David McWilliams (Economist, broadcaster and writer)

Nuns told don’t co-operate with Bishop into Bessborough scandal

MONTH after month, year after year we peel away another layer of the sordid history of Ireland’s mother and baby homes.
In a country where falling pregnant outside marriage was viewed as something worse than a crime, thousands of women and girls were instead hidden away and their children taken from them.
With no real solution to the ‘problem’ of ‘illegitimacy’, the State was happy to leave it to religious orders and a system of mother and baby homes where, even by the standards of the day, the physical and psychological treatment of women and the removal of their children bordered on criminal.

We have all heard the terms. Sadly, their shock value has waned over time. Only in Ireland can a public be fatigued by terms like forced adoption, illegal adoption, trafficking, slavery, child death and mass graves.
Other countries are shocked. The international reaction to the Tuam babies scandal proved as much. However, at home we have to listen to the usual mantra of ‘Sure those were the times’, ‘Nobody forced these girls to get pregnant’ and the old classic: “Sure the religious did their best’.

The fact that none of these arguments hold water doesn’t weaken their hold over people who want to believe them. The culture of death in mother and baby homes was deemed a scandal at the highest government levels more than 70 years ago. The only thing lacking was the courage in official Ireland to do anything about it.

An archive of material obtained by the Irish Examiner from 1941-1945 in relation to Bessborough mother and baby home — including Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) inspection reports, letters from the government of the day to the order and correspondence between the order and the bishop of Cork — reveals a disturbing litany of abuse towards women and children that went largely unchecked.
Concerns around infant mortality are continually raised but there are numerous accounts of “emaciated” children, evidence of “insufficient feeding”. One inspector outlines a standard of medical supervision in Bessborough that is deemed “criminally casual” and requires “drastic action”. Such concerns span not months but years.

Not only that, it’s clear that Bishop of Cork Daniel Cohalan takes great offence to the State having the temerity to ask questions about how Bessborough was being run.
Despite being a State-licenced mother and baby home with a maternity hospital paid for exclusively with state funds and taking public cases referred by the Munster area Public Assistance Board, the bishop’s advice to the order was that their duty, above all else, was to Canon law and their loyalty was to their order.

The archive reveals that the nuns running Bessborough were nervous about state inspection from as far back as 1941. The Superioress had written to Cohalan asking advice on how to respond to questions from inspectors about its Query Sheet — its reporting structure for children born and discharged from the home.
Bishop Cohalan’s response in July 1941 is unequivocal — release as little information as possible.
“It must be remembered that you and the Sisters are a religious community. You are not a department of the Cork County Home and Hospital. You are not a government institution. But like the religious who conduct schools or who have the charge of orphans or of industrial institutions, you can do Catholic social work and receive remuneration and allow government inspection. But this inspection must not encroach on your independence as a religious community. The inspection of national schools and of industrial schools does not extend to the domestic affairs and the domestic expenditure of convents. And why should an inspection of Bessboro extend to the receipts from your land or from charitable sources; or to the expenditure on yourselves, on your inmates, on the chapel?,” writes the bishop.

Clearly, the view of the bishop is that Bessborough’s finances are no business of the State. Interestingly, that attitude persists right to this day.
In response to queries from Tusla last year as to why no financial records were handed over as part of the transfer of Bessborough’s records to the State in 2011, the order’s solicitors responded in January of this year stating that the congregation “did not have financial records in the modern sense of audited accounts”.
However, with reference to the reporting of children in the institution, Bishop Cohalan is clear that the nuns should obey Canon law on the matter before all else.

“You are asked the names of the mothers, their home address, their present address. I am sure that no government would knowingly make a demand that would be opposed to Canon law.
“In the case of illegitimate births, the name of the mother cannot be inserted even in the baptismal register without her consent, unless the event be public. In all private cases, whether the mother is rich or poor, the illegitimate mother has a right to her name and fame; and the fact of the birth cannot be published without her consent. So you must not give particulars of name and address in cases where the illegitimate birth is not public.”
In short, the order must put Canon law before the law of the land. This is despite the fact that all mother and baby homes were expected to comply with the Registration of Maternity Homes Act (1934) which stipulated the mandatory reporting of births and deaths.

Canon law 877 states that “in the case of a child of an unmarried mother, the mother’s name is to be entered if her maternity is publicly known or if, either in writing or before two witnesses, she freely asks that this be done”.
However, in the case of a child born in a Bessborough — a state-licenced institution, in receipt of state and local government funding and inspected by the DLGPH — it could be argued that all births were “publicly known” and needed to be registered. Bishop Cohalan concludes by stating that he may have “to take this whole matter up with the government” but warns the nuns that, in the meantime, they must not do “anything that would be a violation of Canon law”.
“And it would be a distinct violation of Canon law and of natural justice to publish the fact of a secret illegitimate birth, with the mother and father’s name, without the permission of the mother and father,” he concludes.

Given the advice that Canon law should supersede State law, it is imperative that the Commission to Inquire into Mother and Baby Homes seeks access to all registers to investigate how the orders operating such institutions recorded births and deaths.
Bishop Cohalan’s intervention, however, wasn’t enough to stop state inspectors repeatedly raising concerns about conditions in Bessborough for the next three years.
In January of 1942, a letter was sent to the Superioress of Bessborough Sr Martina Gleeson, under direction from the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, following an inspection from his medical inspector, Dr Dillon in June 1941.

The letter reports overcrowding, an unsafe building and that the nuns only produced requested documentation “under pressure”.
“The register has not been written up since 1939. No register of confinements was kept. The inspector was unable to satisfy herself as to the provision made for fire-fighting, as the nun in charge did not afford her proper facilities for inspection. The Inspector further reports that she was treated with discourtesy and that generally there was unwillingness to facilitate her in carrying out the statutory inspection under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act, 1934.

She was, for instance, refused admission to a room in the institution which, when eventually unlocked, proved to be a bathroom converted into a bedroom. The register of cases was produced only “under pressure.” It was noted that there was a “tendency to discourage breastfeeding” and that this may be partly responsible for the high infant mortality rate at the institution. It is also noted that the nun in charge had no qualifications in supervising maternity care.

In response, Sr Martina says the issue of the register not being maintained was “a misunderstanding” and argues that women are forced to breastfeed when they feel disinclined to do so.
However, none of these interventions solve the problems at the institution. Although, by 1943, a decision was made for a period to stop sending women referred by the Public Assistance Authority to Bessborough, concerns about its safety continued to mount.

An August 1943 DLGPH inspection report from Alice Litster reveals the treatment of children in Bessborough was causing “uneasiness”.
Ms Litster reveals that, of the 27 babies in the day nursery aged between three weeks to nine months, only eight were breastfed and only three fully.
“The greater number were miserable scraps of humanity, wisened, some emaciated and almost all had rash and sores all over their bodies, faces, hands and heads,” she reports.
The report notes children as old as six were present in the institution “for whose education no provision is made” in contravention of the Compulsory School Attendance Act.

“The condition of the infants and younger children in the institution gives cause for uneasiness. During the year ended 31.3.43, 70 children died. There were 114 admissions (ie, births plus infants admitted after birth during the year and all but one of the 70 deaths were of children under one year),” notes Ms Litster.
Interestingly, the Death Register retained by the order records only 55 infant deaths in this period — a discrepancy revealed by the Irish Examiner last week.

A defence to DLGPH report was mounted by the nuns. With reference to the “miserable scraps of humanity”, the nuns said these children “got this contagion from an outside patient” and that their doctors were “very puzzled and cannot understand what is the cause”.
Regarding the lack of breastfeeding at Bessborough, the nuns said the mothers “have plenty of rest, copious fluids and good nourishing diet”.

“In the majority of cases the mothers are inclined to be fretful and have no love for their infants.”
This bizarre attempt to lay the blame for the emaciated appearance of children on their mothers’ lack of love, is taken to even more extreme lengths by Bessborough’s medical officer Dr James T O’Connor, who prepared a report on the cause of infant deaths at the institution in the mid-1940s.

Dr O’Connor notes that although children were dying, in some cases of severe malnutrition, this was not due to the diet or to the lack of breastfeeding. Instead, he argued that “illegitimate” children can sometimes fail to digest breast milk, while pointing out that their gestation period is different to that of a child of marriage.
“In spite of this selection [of food] some of the children lost weight and died. An explanation for this is that some infants saw a remarkable difficulty in digesting food and this is due to a primary failure of the process of assimilation, whether for particular food, or for foods in general, even in some cases where the child is breast fed, they do not assimilate the nourishment in the milk. This is more remarkable in illegitimate children.” “It must be remembered that the period of Gestation of these children is far different to that of the married woman. The girl worries a great deal and is mentally upset over her condition. She is constantly trying to conceal the fact that she is pregnant, and in some cases every effort is made to get rid of the foetus. All this has undoubtly (sic) a most injurious effect on the developing foetus resulting in weak and defective children who have a poor resistance to disease and defective powers for assimilating food,” he noted.

However, a report by the County Medical Officer for Health highlighted that Dr O’Connor visited on average twice weekly and there “appears to be no written agreement” in relation to his conditions of service. Although paid £120 per year by the nuns, the County Medical Officer noted that not every infant was seen during his visits and “no proper records, such as weight cards, etc are kept for each child”.
By Christmas of 1944, little had changed. A report prepared by DLGPH inspector Florence Dillon had left parliamentary secretary at the DLGPH Dr Con Ward — effectively the health minister of the day — in no doubt that “drastic action” needed to be taken to deal with Bessborough.

In a letter sent on his behalf to the assistant secretary at the department, he is blunt in his opinion of conditions at the mother and baby home.
“Dr Ward feels satisfied that the medical supervision in the institution cannot but be criminally casual and he directs that the fullest report envisaged by the chief medical adviser be immediately obtained and submitted to him,” states the letter.
In January of the following year, the DLGPH wrote to the overall head of the Order in Chigwell in England advising that it had provided substantial funding to Bessborough and that unless changes were made, including the re-organisation of the management and staffing of the home, the government would be forced to “undertake a complete review of the policy whereby responsibility for this type of institution has been committed to your Order.” The letter ends with a demand that a new Superior be appointed who possesses “satisfactory qualifications and experience in the administration of an institution dealing with midwifery and child care”.

While the overall head of the order agrees to this re-organisation, the interference of the State in the affairs of the nuns irked Bishop of Cork Daniel Cohalan who wrote to Dr Ward in February 1945 to express his annoyance.
“Rev Mother Martina has informed me that the Mother Superior in England was asked to remove her. That procedure was scarcely correct. Mother Martina is Reverend Mother of the Community of Sisters, it is an ecclesiastical appointment; it was not a correct thing to call for her removal,” he wrote.
However, the department is equally bullish in its response to the bishop stating that should the numbers of children reported as dying in Bessborough make it into the public domain, it would result in a “public scandal”.
“The parliamentary secretary is only concerned with her position as matron of a home in which the death rate has reached an exceptionally high figure. The fact that 102 babies died in the institution before reaching the age of 12 months during the year 31st March last — the total infants born in the home and admitted after birth in that year being 124 — is viewed with disquietude.

“Apart from any public scandal which might result, the parliamentary secretary felt that the case called for immediate action and that to allow the Rev Mother Martina to continue as manager would mean acquiescence on his part in the state of affairs which has been disclosed,” stated the letter.
The 102 deaths referred to an 82% death rate at Bessborough, which was reported to the DLGPH inspector Alice Litster for year ended 31 March 1944. The order’s own death register records just 77 deaths for this period — a discrepancy which it has declined to offer an explanation for.

Although the order tried to delay the removal of Sr Martina, the threat of it being barred from operating a mother and baby home and losing the state funding that resulted meant that by September 1945, it agreed to remove her from Bessborough to be replaced by Mother Rosemonde.

A handwritten note from September 1945 acknowledges the change and notes: “We might give the new Rev Mother, who appears to be very capable, a chance to pull Bessboro together before we press for a withdrawal of the maternity licence”. In 1946, the level of infant death had fallen from 30 to 10. In 1947, it had risen to 19 before falling dramatically to single figures until 1953. By this time, adoption had been made legal in Ireland. The order has claimed it maintained no death register after this point.
It is noteworthy that despite an infant mortality rate which peaked at 82%, the government, at no point during this period, withdrew Bessborough’s licence to operate as a mother and baby home. You’d wonder how bad things would have had to be before someone had the courage to make that decision.
Conall ó Fátharta

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Photo Minute: No dinner tonight

In Ireland the scales of justice remain tilted in the interests of privileged

WHERE’S Alan Shatter when you need him? The former minister for justice may be forgotten, but he is not gone.
These days he languishes on the Government backbenches, having resigned last year over mishandling Garda controversies.

He did, however, leave one legacy which he must have hoped would endure. In 2011, he introduced the Legal Services Regulation Bill designed to curb the power of the two arms of the legal business. While this measure was forced on the Government by the troika, Mr Shatter did show courage and tenacity in his approach.

Then he was gone, and it would now seem that his attempts at real reform have withered in his wake.
This week it emerged that the bill’s torturous route towards law has seen specific measures watered down to an extent that renders reform a joke.

A rare opportunity has been missed to drag the business kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Reform of the legal business is long overdue. Most of the issues relate to that which any vested interests hold dearest — the colour of money.
Legal fees in this country are among the highest in the world, and act as a barrier to business in general and to the right of citizens to access justice.

Like any vested interests, lawyers have a knack for seeing the world from a unique vantage.
Just last night, introducing President Higgins at the Daniel O’Connell lecture, the president of the Bar Council, David Barniville, had this to say: “Access to justice is an integral part of human rights and we at The Bar of Ireland believe that everyone should have equal access to justice.”
Quite obviously, irony didn’t feature at the event. Purporting to stand for justice for all just as a bill is presented to Cabinet which will maintain a system which confines access to justice to the moneyed is a bit rich.

Two recent cases illustrate how crazy the cost of justice is.
This week, it was revealed that four barristers acting for the State in the Ian Bailey action received €1.21m in legal fees. The two senor counsels each pocketed €350,000.
The trial in question sat for 64 days, and involved a fair amount of work, but the fees are staggering by any standard.

In that instance, the State won the action but Mr Bailey apparently hasn’t a bob, so it falls back on the State. And that’s only the barristers’ fees.

If private solicitors are retained, their wodge often far exceeds that of their gowned kindred spirits.
Last Tuesday, the High Court awarded costs against Michelle Morrison following her failed action against neighbours over a boundary dispute. The case sat for a week before it was abandoned. The costs are estimated at heading towards €400,000.

Mrs Morrison is the estranged wife of Van Morrison, and you can be sure that nobody told her there would be days like this.
She may well be able to ship the cost, but for most citizens, it would herald financial ruin.
Mr Shatter’s bill was largely based on a report published by the Competition Authority in 2006. Since then, cabinets had sat on that report until the troika arrived and decided that somebody was having a laugh.
Two measures in particular were designed to bring fees back into the real world. One involved the setting up of a new regulatory body to take regulation out of the business. This, as economist Stephen Kinsella among others has pointed out, has now been diluted to a huge extent.

The new regulator will be set up but many of its functions as originally envisaged will be retained by the Law Society and Bar Council.
As such, a regime of self-regulation will continue.

Also, the Bar Council will not be compelled to admit to the law library barristers who do not work as sole practitioners. This has implications for bodies like the State, which is the biggest client of legal services.
If a state body could employ a barrister, it would cut down hugely on the legal fees that must be paid to sole practitioners.

Instead of forcing the Bar to accept such a concession, the bill opens the option of non-sole practitioners setting up a new trade body themselves. Good luck with that one.
The bill has been in gestation for four years, during which time, the two arms of the business went to work on it with machetes.

If Shatter was still in office, he may not have emerged from the process with his original plans intact, but nobody could have imagined that his successor Frances Fitzgerald would have capitulated to the extent that she has.
While the Law Society and Bar Council were slashing the bill, the body representing the citizen — the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission — was excluded.

The commission has noted that there was “a lack of engagement” with it during the process, in contrast to “a high level of engagement with the representative bodies of the legal profession, who have a vested interest in retaining the status quo.”

And retain it they have. The power of the legal lobby to protect its interest is unrivalled, even in a country replete with vested interests. It helps that lawyers argue for a living.
But the real power comes from the complete infiltration of the political culture by solicitors and barristers. This has ensured that anytime their pockets are threatened, all party or ideological differences are set aside to fight the good fight for the protection of fees.

The tactic most often used is to conflate a genuine lawyerly concern to advocate for citizens, with their own interest in maintaining the gravy train.
That three card trick always has, and continues, to work a treat.
An existential recession, replete with savage social injustices, was inflicted on this country. An opportunity to reform things in a grown up manner was presented, particularly by the presence of the troika.
The moneylenders didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. A ready-made blueprint for reform was already gathering dust in Leinster House. All the troika did was provide the cover for a government to actually acquire a backbone when it came to taking on the legal business.

Yet we can now see that in one more area, a vested interest has managed to weather the recession and emerge largely intact, to the cost of the public interest.

The whole shambles leads one to nearly, but not quite, cry out: “Come back, Alan Shatter, all is forgiven.”
Michael Clifford

Photo Minute: The illegal aliens living in your home up close

Islamic State terrorism returning to Ireland are our biggest threat

In an area shrouded in secrecy, scraps of information and a lack of independent experts, questions have been raised about the threat to Ireland from so-called Islamic terrorism and how the gardaí are tackling it.
A range of security sources who spoke to the Irish Examiner this week agree the direct threat is low. But they do highlight some dangers and the challenges of intelligence work.
The main risks are radicalisation and returned fighters.

“There are sympathisers or supporters of Isis here,” said Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, west Dublin.
“You hear them saying they can understand why Isis is doing this, they are standing up to the US.” Though small in number, he said it was “very dangerous” if they went unchallenged.

“We in the Muslim community must ensure young Muslims are taught categorically that there is no justification within Islam for what Isis is doing, because the young men are learning their Islam from online.”
He said any radicals known to be attending mosques must be confronted: “We must talk to them and if we can’t talk sense into them we must consider not allowing them in the mosque.
“We must also inform gardaí about them. That is your duty as a Muslim and as a citizen.
“God forbid, if something did happen here, we can say the Muslim community took responsibility to try and prevent that.”

As regards returned fighters, sources estimate 30-40 Irish people have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq.
While it is difficult to get hard estimates on numbers that have returned, one security source estimated that some 20 may have returned to Ireland, but this cannot be confirmed.
“The biggest threat is fellas that have gone out and come back,” he said.
“They have military training and experience of combat. The fear is they might set up a little cell.”

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has identified this area as a risk, including the threat from so-called lone wolves, or people acting on their own.
One source said there was also the matter of cells here plotting to target someone abroad, as with the plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.
The plot, intercepted in 2010, involved Muslim people in Ireland, the US and Asia, as well US citizens, two of whom were convicted of terrorism in the US.
So what is the gardaí doing to combat the problem.

The operational arm of security policing in Ireland is carried out by the Special Detective Unit, which boasts around 300 members.
This, since last year, was structured between Counter Terrorism Domestic and Counter Terrorism International, along with the Emergency Response Unit and other units.
An estimated 40-50 people are assigned to CTI, split up into five shifts.
Sitting above the SDU is Security and Intelligence Section at Garda Headquarters. It gathers and analyses intelligence and handles informants in the Covert Human Intelligence Source, which has a specific CTI section. S&I also directs any surveillance or interception of communications of CTI suspects, a handful of whom are thought to have their phones tapped.

S&I directs the activities of the National Surveillance Unit and liaises with foreign intelligence agencies.
Figures on the number of radicals that are being monitored is very difficult to establish, with some sources estimating it to be a couple of a dozen people.
Sources point out that much of the public is misinformed when they hear about suspects being ‘monitored’ or ‘tracked’.

“To conduct physical surveillance on people is enormously resource intensive,” said one source.
“To do it properly you could have six-10 people from the NSU and 10-12 from the ERU. You could do that for three to four days, and there may be very little reward to show for it.
He added: “You could log him going to Tescos, going to work, going to the mosque, going home, maybe he meets someone, but not much else.”
He said this is where other building blocks come into play — the application of technical surveillance, such as audio/visual devices and phone tapping; information from CHIS informants; information from community gardaí and the Muslim community.

“It’s the same with dissidents [republicans], the lifeblood of our work is intelligence. That points you to where to go.”
CTI faces issues in dealing with those suspected of travelling to fight in Syria and those returning back.
According to sources, both the S&I and the CTI have had lengthy discussions on how to handle this “tricky” area, particularly those on the way out.
“If you stop them, you show your hand,” said one source.
“They will wonder ‘How did they know I was going out. That fella told them’. And then your CHIS source could be compromised.”

He added: “Also if you stop an 18-year-old and he says he’s travelling to Egypt to visit his granny, there’s not a lot you can do. We don’t have the power to arrest them, on what basis?”
He pointed out that the people don’t have to speak to them, as it is all voluntary. The same when they return.

“Again we have no power of arrest, unless there’s an offence. You are relying on them to talk to you voluntarily. They might have attended camp over there, been radicalised, fought for 6-8 months with an AK in their hand. They’re full of testosterone. They’re not frightened of you and tend not to say too much.”
Sources said that many fit back in and do nothing else to warrant concern, but that some “may have got a taste of mad action” and remain a worry.

CTI try and keep track of them as best they can, but again there’s a limit, like any intelligence agency, as to what they can physically, and legally, do.

There are basic ones, affecting the entire Garda force, such as staffing levels and overtime budgets. But there are a range of other issues affecting both the CTI and S&I.

A number of sources have said that neither section has members who can speak or read Arabic, posing obvious limitations: from monitoring Arabic communications — both online and in phone taps — to reading any Arabic documentation.
It also limits their ability to talk to people on the street and during interrogation. The latter results in the State spending money on interpretation services, which can also affect detention periods for suspects.
Both the London Met and MI5 have no shortages in this area and MI5 recruits civilian language specialists.
But some sources within the units here play down the affects of not having Arabic speakers, saying they converse with people in English. They said S&I have the use of expertise outside the force or through Interpol.

A Garda spokesman said the organisation had “linguistic capabilities to meet our needs”.
While Shaykh Al-Qadri has no knowledge on this, he said it would be a concern.
“If it is true that the gardaí don’t have Arabic speakers, that is a big problem,” he said.
“They should have Arabic speakers. One language the terrorists use is Arabic, they can communicate in it and some of the propaganda websites are in Arabic.”

This ties in with a second issue: the reported lack of a dedicated unit within S&I tasked with monitoring social media or so-called open source information. This was highlighted in the Garda Inspectorate’s Crime Investigation report.
It said the PSNI “use this sort of intelligence on a daily basis and have deployed resources to manage this process”.

Sources said that the SDU had done this sort of work on an “ad hoc” basis and that it played a part in an investigation of a well-known Irish Muslim with extremist views.
One source indicated that S&I have been in contact with the PSNI regarding the software technology they use in their online unit.

Shakyh al-Qadri said he “didn’t have confidence [social media] is being monitored” and said he had come across many disturbing posts on Facebook from Irish muslims.
He also said that the hacker group Anonymous had this week published information on thousands of Twitter accounts of people linked to, or supporting, Isis. He said these include people with accounts based in Ireland.
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A garda spokesman said that Operation Mizen was a National Co-ordination Unit which examined a range of open source information, not just on water charges, as previously stated.
He said the unit was liaising with “agencies and academic institutions” to “further enhance” its capabilities.
Shaykh Al-Qadri said there also needed to be some kind of deradicalisation programme for returned fighters.
“All of those who come back must be monitored and they must be obliged to take part in a deradicalisation programme. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a programme, partly because the numbers are small.”
Another gap is the level of knowledge regarding the growing number of ‘prayer houses’ around the country, in people’s homes and in industrial units, that are not linked to mosques. Some of these have been the centre of CTI concern before.
“We have an excellent relationship with the Muslim community and no issues with the mainstream mosques,” said one security source.
“But there’s nothing stopping anyone setting up a prayer house and some of them are more fanatical and they are difficult for us to get into and we’ve had ones where people who were known to us were going into.”
Shaykh Al-Qadri said there was “no solid information” on numbers of such houses and said they should be regulated to provide “transparency”.
A further gap, and a long-term one, is recruitment of Muslim people into An Garda Síochána.
“There’s been no recruitment for so long, that the demographic makeup has not changed,” said a security source.
“You need a community service that looks like the community it serves. That doesn’t just mean Muslims, but also Polish, Latvian and Romanian.”
A source at Garda management level agreed: “Do we want a service that represents the community? Absolutely. They can link in with these communities, of which they are a member, in a positive way.”
He said these issues were to the forefront in the recruitment which had resumed last year.
Shaykh al-Qadri said: “To win the war against radicalism we need to give the Muslim community more assurances that they are part of the society and give them the space to integrate and be part of the gardaí.”
He said he knew of some Muslims who had been recruited into the Garda Reserve and this could be built on.
“It is very essential there are gardaí from Muslim background, who can speak Arabic. It needs to change.”
Cormac ó Keefe