I extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured in Friday night’s terrorist attacks, and to also extend my sympathies to the people of France and in particular the people of Paris on the horrendous violence that befell their Capital and their city. Such indiscriminate use of violence on innocent people is abhorrent and I condemn these attacks in the strongest of terms. The murder of 129 people and the wounding of 352 people is an act of barbarity.
The effects of the atrocities in Paris have had global consequences. Citizens from at least 15 countries are known to have died demonstrating that while the attacks may have been on French soil, their devastating impact has reverberated around the world. One Irish citizen was physically injured in the Bataclan Theatre and I take this opportunity to wish him a full and speedy recovery, and to also extend our support to Irish citizens living in France. As a country that has suffered its own terrorist attacks we know only too well the fear and anxiety that can descend in the aftermath of the attacks and our thoughts and solidarity are with the people of France during this terrible time.
Unfortunately, it is only 10 months ago since Paris bore witness to similar violence when 17 people were murdered when the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a supermarket were attacked. To have to grieve again so soon is shocking and desperately sad. It is an affront to democracy, decency and Justice.
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack the people of France and indeed the people of Europe united in solidarity and in defiance of extremism. European leaders walked arm-in-arm in Paris in defence of European values and free speech. Governments committed to work even more closely together to fight terrorism and religious extremism. The recent attacks will I hope only serve to strengthen this unity and solidarity amongst European nations and compel us to redouble our efforts to rid the world of this evil.
The atrocities in Paris, and other recent attacks in Beiruit, Tunisa and Turkey, and the blowing up of a Russian airliner in Egypt, expose not only the brutality and ruthlessness of extremists groups, but also their ability to plan and orchestrate large scale and multiple attacks that lead to a significant loss of life. Last Friday night brought home to us that these groups will stop at nothing to undermine freedom and democracy, values held dear in Europe but vehemently opposed by Isis who have claimed responsibility for the attacks.
It is clear that individual national responses will not be enough to fight terrorism and a co-ordinated European and indeed world-wide response is required. The advance of social media and use of technologies such as the internet and global communication networks has made it easier for terrorist groups to not only spread their ideology but also to recruit, organise and radicalise groups of people in different countries. Terrorist groups are also using these social media platforms to finance their criminal activities.
The attacks in Paris would appear to have been well planned and co-ordinated. It was not the work of a few disenfranchised individuals and for that reason I echo the Taoiseach’s call for better security cooperation and the sharing of intelligence across Europe. The sharing of intelligence is crucial to detecting terrorist cells and undermining the work of terrorist groups. The advance of Isis is no longer confined to the Middle East and the attacks in Paris demonstrate the need for greater intelligence sharing, and coordination between security agencies.
All European nations, including Ireland have a role to play in this. I note that the State’s National Security Committee met last Saturday and I hope that the Irish Government will do all it can to work with our European colleagues in this regard.
While the threat to Ireland of a terrorist attack by Isis appears to be low, we must nevertheless remain very vigilant. We cannot be complacent in believing that we are immune from attacks. Furthermore, we must ensure that young people living in Ireland do not become disenfranchised and take up the Isis cause. There have been reports that some 20-30 people have travelled from Ireland to take part in various conflicts in recent years, and the Irish Government and our security forces have a role to play in monitoring the activities of such individuals, but also working with communities to ensure that they are not left on the margins of society.
The attacks raise questions and no doubt pose major challenges for Europe, but we must be measured in our response and in our approach. Our response should be not be premised on an ‘us versus them’ mentality. This would only play into the hands of Isis. Their ideology is skewed and has no place in a civilised, democratic society. All of us who hold dear the principles of democracy and freedom have a role to play in ensuring that fundamentalism does not take hold and that we do not play into the hands of terrorists who want divide rather than unite, and whose aim is to fuel hatred between people of different religions.
The arrival of more than one million refugees in Europe this year has posed challenges for Europe and it has caused tension between and within countries. Many of these refugees are fleeing war and a savage conflict in Syria. Undoubtedly, there may well be some attempts to use the Paris attacks as an excuse to reject offering any refuge to those fleeing the conflict in Syria. We in Fianna Fáil reject this. We are of the opinion that the overwhelming majority of those seeking refuge in the European Union are trying to escape the horrors of conflicts in which those who committed the atrocities in Paris are key protagonists. We do not want the Paris attacks to give oxygen to a xenophobic ideology and fundamentally undermine the principle of the free movement of people, which is one of the building blocks of the European Union.
To that end, Fianna Fáil supports a fair and proportionate EU resettlement programme to be agreed at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council. We welcome the acceptance of 4,000 refugees but believe the government and statutory agencies must fully engage with NGOs in order to secure a sustainable integration policy for refugees.
The challenges that we face are significant, but they are not insurmountable. The Paris attacks have consequences that span the personal, the political, the social and economic spheres. The war in Syria, the migration crisis in Europe and the attacks on democracy and freedom by Isis demonstrate in very clear terms the challenges before us. However, it is imperative that all of these terrible events are not used as an opportunity to exploit radicalism on the one hand and xenophobia on the other. Social cohesion and unity are required.
These barbaric attacks must assist in uniting the world against such violence. We as a nation and as a member of the European Union must stand together in the face of such fundamentalism and work collectively to detect, deter and dismantle such groups.