Should Irish people be fearful of terrorism?

Ireland ranked as the tenth most peaceful country in the world in 2018. Credit: Rachel Halpin

Terrorism has been described as a plague on the world and a true waste of human life.

Jihadi terrorism in particular has often been seen as a constant threat, even in Ireland where there have been no recorded instances of jihadi attacks. With the possibility of a hard border post-Brexit looming closer, should Irish people be more fearful of terrorism?

The Paris attacks in 2015 that killed 130 people instilled a renewed fear of terrorism in Europe. A 2015 Statista survey revealed that 50 per cent of Irish people believed the threat of terrorism to be the biggest issue facing the EU, compared to an average of 44 per cent.

This fear may be irrational for Irish people but there are many different types of terrorism to be considered. James Fitzgerald, a lecturer in Terrorism Studies in DCU, believes any fear of terrorism Irish people have is relative to the type of terrorism and the generation the person is
coming from.

“As Irish people, we are global citizens and kind of global consumers of a similar type of media so I think in that respect, there is a fear of terrorism in Ireland,” said Fitzgerald.

“I think it’s a bit more balanced than the general fear of jihadist terrorism that has really permeated since 9/11.”

This fear continued on as 39 per cent of people in Europe thought terrorism was a major challenge facing the EU in 2016, according to the European Commission.

With the March 29th Brexit deadline looming closer each day, the potential for a returning hard border between North and South has still not been clarified and some have fears for a return of violence near the border towns.

Although concerns over the hard border are centred mainly on the economy, the threat of increased violence in the North is always a possibility. A no deal Brexit would threaten many fabrics of society and could potentially lead to heightened violence and an increasing fear of terrorism.

Professor Shane Barton, senior lecturer in International Relations at Queen’s University, Belfast said he doesn’t believe there is a big fear of dissident republican attacks anymore in the North of Ireland and in the UK.

“My sense in the North is that they are sick of the patronising assumption that facing any challenges to the border will slide everything back to how it was in 1969,” said Barton.

“Nobody is advocating for a hard border. It would be a consequence of failure.” Barton added that although fears of republican attacks may not be too high, there are contingency plans in place both sides of the border. Garda armed support units have been boosted near the border in preparation for Brexit, according to the Belfast Telegraph. The BBC reported in May that the sale of a police station near the border was halted due to uncertainty about the effects of Brexit.

“I don’t think Irish society at the moment associates the return of a hard border with the return of the Troubles really but the other aspects that go with it,” said Fitzgerald.

“I think people are not so much directly fearful of terrorism but more the tension and security issues that might wrap up up North which then might in turn lead to violence.”

The UK had the highest number of terrorist attacks in the EU in 2017 with 107 attacks including the Manchester Arena and London Bridge.

“There is a real issue there in terms of Brexit increasing the fear of terrorism in relation to the border and the return of a hard border. There have been a couple of incidents in the North in Derry for example a few weeks ago and I don’t think that got much media coverage as it would
have perhaps if it was a jihadist terrorist attack,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald added that the fear of terrorism may be culturally embedded through media tropes in the films and television programmes Irish people watch.

“We have a bit more of a cultural fear because we have been living in a post 9/11 age with this issue of terrorism,” said Fitzgerald.

But jihadi terrorism is not the only type. Although it is hard to know whether a no deal Brexit would increase fear and incidences of terrorism, there could be comparison to draw between Brexit and further expressions of hatred and right-wing extremism, but it is difficult to say this is the cause.

“These statistics can fall under the radar a bit. There is kind of a racial dynamic and there is kind of a dynamic that it’s easy for people to picture that a contemporary terrorist threat is simply defined as a jihadist because that’s what we have known for the past 20 years or so but there
are different facets to the story,” said Fitzgerald.

Roughly 240,000 people are injured from lightning strikes each year but no surveys show a fear of lightning as the biggest threat to our world. In comparison, there were ten confirmed and completed terrorist attacks in the European Union in 2017. Globally, there were 8,584 terrorist attacks that year.

According to the Global Peace Index, Ireland ranked as the tenth most peaceful country in the world in 2018. This is strident to remember when worrying about the threat of terrorism in Ireland, hard border or soft.

Orla Dwyer

Image credit: Rachel Halpin