Michael C. Murphy Lt Col. (Retd.), Former Deputy Director Military Intelligence, Irish Defence Forces,


I will focus on Ireland within the EU and present to you my analysis of the current and emerging threats facing Ireland, how these can affect our relationship with the EU and outline why I believe the Irish Government by its inaction is putting the security of this state, its citizens, and our EU partners at risk.

During my presentation, I want you to keep in mind the principle that national security is a national responsibility and is not an EU competency. That means that the security of this State and the protection of its citizens is the responsibility of the Irish Government. The Taoiseach as head of government is personally responsible for ensuring that the police, military and intelligence services are sufficiently effective to safeguard our national security. I have read an argument that when a government fails in its national security responsibilities that it has also broken its contract with its people.


When I worked in military intelligence it was often our task to analyse and produce assessments on the threats to our national security. It became very clear in the latter years that the threats and risks had increased substantially and that, if they materialised, we would have very serious difficulties. While still in service, myself and others did our best to ensure that our decision-makers were made aware of these assessments.

When serving in the army an individual is curtailed, and rightly so, with what they may disclose to the public. Even after leaving the army it is part of our culture to be still reluctant to talk to the press.

Shortly after I had left the forces in 2013, I was watching an RTE documentary regarding the State’s financial crash that had occurred a few years previously. A number of politicians were interviewed. It was striking that a number of them stated that if only someone had warned them before the crash regarding the possible consequences of their budgetary decisions that they would have done things completely differently.

It occurred to me then that perhaps our politicians are uninformed regarding the poor state of our security and intelligence structures. I surmised that if they were aware then, surely, they would do something about it. It was at that stage in 2014 that I took the unusual decision for a former military intelligence officer to write an article for the Irish Times, the purpose of which was to inform our politicians and ensure that no one could claim ignorance thereafter of the poor state of our national security posture.

When a security consultant conducts a security risk assessment of an organisation they can find that the organisation’s security culture usually falls within one of the following four categories: Immature, Aware, Advanced, or Cutting Edge. Ireland’s security culture falls within the Immature category. That is to say that as a state there is limited risk awareness, our security measures are purely reactive, and there are limited resources attached to security provision.

This no doubt stems from the luxury of our geographical position on the western edge of Europe. Here, unlike the other neutrals in Europe, we have been protected from potential adversaries by NATO but, more importantly, by the United Kingdom. We have achieved our security on the cheap.

Today, you can still hear Irish people, including some politicians, saying that as a neutral country no one wants to harm us. They appear to be ignorant of the fact that our world has changed and that our security environment has become unpredictable and unstable. For example:

  • The cyber threat does not recognise international borders and can easily bypass the physical security that has been provided for us by our larger neighbours.
  • We have developed our foreign direct investment, and our research and development profile. You can be assured that we have also become attractive as a source for both business and state espionage.
  • The globalisation of the media has brought conflicts straight into our living rooms. This has often resulted in pressure being put on our government to react where previously they might have desisted.
  • Our immigration policies have drastically changed the profile of our population. Now we no longer just have to be worry about indigenous terrorism but we also must consider the transnational Salafist Jihadist terrorist threat.

Anyone who thinks this Salafist Jihadi threat will disappear with the defeat of the so-called Islamic State forces on the ground is very much mistaken. The threat will be with us for many more years to come.

Recently I wrote an opinion piece for the Irish Independent and stated that:

  • One, the self-named Islamic State had declared war on the West.
  • Two, they have made no distinction regarding Ireland. In their minds Ireland is part of the Crusader West and therefore is a target.
  • Three, Islamic State has informed us that they would use the migrant crisis as a means to get their operatives into Europe, and that they have done so.
  • Four, Islamic State has ordered its operatives to hit western targets wherever possible, whenever possible and to use whatever means are at their disposal, and they have done so.
  • Finally, that Ireland needs to be prepared to combat the threat posed by those few individuals that have come to live among us and who wish to do us, or our neighbours, harm.


Not alone do we have to worry about who is already in this state but we also have to take into account those who can freely travel and reside here because of our EU membership. For example, it is estimated that in the UK there are 23,000 extremists, Germany 24,000, Belgium 18,000, France 17,000 and even in neutral Sweden there are an estimated 2,000 extremists. All of these extremists have access throughout the EU including here in Ireland.

Business leaders when assessing a location to move their businesses consider a number of factors. One of their key considerations is security. Therefore, an attack in Ireland could have significant impact on our economic well-being and we could suffer long-term reputational damage as a safe and secure place to live, work, or visit.

Tourists make similar decisions when booking a holiday. Here in Ireland, tourism supports some 220,000 jobs and generates revenues of some €7 billion for our economy. So, an attack anywhere in Ireland is not just a Dublin centric problem but a countrywide problem. Such an attack will affect businesses and tourism in every county, even here in far-away but beautiful Donegal and the Wild Atlantic Way. This is something that should concern every member of our parliament.

In order to prevent these threats from materialising we need to ensure that our counter-terrorism strategies are first class: the cornerstone of which is intelligence. Most terrorist attacks do not come without some forewarning; therefore, it has to be asked why do intelligence failures occur?

Research shows that intelligence failures occur at two levels – Governmental and Operational. Because of time constraints I will concentrate on governmental failures. As I list them I would like you to do a quick analysis and consider how our government measures up.

The list includes:

  • One, failing to have mature and effective state intelligence structures in place;
  • Two, failing to ensure that intelligence is shared on the ‘need to share’ basis both within services, between services, and with foreign intelligence agencies;
  • Three, failing to have in place all-encompassing counter-terrorism laws;
  • Four, failing to have effective public policies regarding border controls, immigration, integration; travel restrictions, and security vetting;
  • Five, failing to ensure that extremists don’t dominate places of worship,
  • Six, failing to prevent radicalisation in prisons, schools, and universities.
  • Finally, the biggest failure – not learning from other government’s failures.

Since 2014, the Taoiseach, various government ministers, and the Garda Commissioner have continuously informed us that the threat of attack in this state is considered ‘possible but unlikely’.

That assessment is usually accompanied with comments such as “there is NO EVIDENCE” “there is NO DIRECT EVIDENCE” “WE DON’T HAVE ANY EVIDENCE” of a threat. There is an old intelligence adage regarding evidence that one should remember. It states that ‘absence of evidence’ is not the same as ‘evidence of absence’. Of course, the government is correct when it states that there is no evidence. It is very difficult to find the evidence if you don’t even know what haystack to search never mind where to find the preverbal needle.

If there should be a terrorist attack, a major cyber-attack, or an espionage discovery, there will be an outcry for an inquiry. As you know inquiries are very expensive both in time and finances. I can save the Irish tax payer a lot of money.


I can tell you here today that any expert conducting an inquiry will examine our current intelligence architecture against the reasons for intelligence failure. It will not take them very long to come to the conclusion that this state’s counter terrorism preparation was GROSSLY NEGLIGENT.

Our current intelligence structures are not fit for purpose. Not alone does this put the lives of our own people at risk but also those of our close neighbours in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe.

However, there is some light beginning to shine. Already the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised that within 50 days of taking office (the 2 August) he will have a new Cabinet Security Committee established, similar to COBRA in the UK.

Recently we all learnt that Mr Varadkar can be a good runner. So, now it will be interesting to see how good he is at getting over obstacles. I say that because if he wishes to implement his proposed changes he is going to have to get over the many obstacles that will placed in his path by the usual vested interests.

I say that because it was reported in 2016 that Mr Simon Coveney, who was then the Minister for Defence, made proposals regarding changing our intelligence structures but was met by fierce opposition by the then Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, the Department of Justice, and An Garda Síochána.

However, another light in recent months is that there appears to be greater awareness of our security inadequacies by a growing number of TDs and Senators.

Importantly, among them is the leader of the opposition, Mr Michéal Martin, who has acknowledged that we have a security problem and that we need to consider creating a civilian intelligence agency and rethink how we do security.


So, what do we need to do? The following are three suggestions that should be implemented immediately:

  • Review the structure and functions of the National Security Committee.
  • Establish a National Intelligence Analysis Centre and appoint a Director for National Intelligence to lead it. This individual would have two responsibilities: be Chief Advisor to the government on national security issues, and fusing intelligence from across all government departments and agencies.
  • Establish a civilian intelligence agency and extract the state security responsibilities from the Garda Commissioner. If you wish to see how this could be achieved then you need to look no further than Canada. There in 1984 the Canadian Government took state security functions from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and established a separate Canadian civilian intelligence agency. That decision was made following the MacDonald Commission Report which investigated wrongdoings by the police, something we are familiar with here in this state.

In conclusion, I put it to you that while we still have time we need to change our security culture and our intelligence structures. It is said that when a state reacts in a crisis, its decision-making options are reduced, the solutions arrived at are usually more expensive, and, rarely does it provide time to consider second or third order consequences leading to unintended or undesired effects.

We need to ensure that the terrorists do not get the upper hand because otherwise this state will be playing catch up on their timings.



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