Like other speakers I welcome the opportunity to comment and to express sympathy with the people of France following the atrocities on Friday night last. Most of us were watching the end of the “Nine O’Clock News” when news filtered through of shootings in Paris. The information came slowly but it kept coming.
Most of us also remember last July when we heard the news that six young Irish people died following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley. We all remember the grief of the six families that suffered as a result of that horrific accident. Following the events of last Friday night, there are almost 200 families grieving for the loss of their loved ones. People from 25 different countries were affected by the atrocity. In addition, people must deal with life-changing injuries. A total of 390 people were injured as a result of the bombings and shootings on a very quiet evening in Paris when young people were out enjoying themselves, eating in restaurants, attending a match between France and Germany and attending a concert.
Those events have shattered not just the people of Paris and France but people throughout the world. The atrocities on Boulevard Voltaire, Rue Alibert, Rue de Charonne and at the Stade de France may have changed the world and in particular Europe for a long time to come. We saw how the events of 9/11 changed the world. The events in Paris will also change Europe because we are living in very difficult and challenging times. This was the worst atrocity in Europe since the Madrid bombings more than 11 years ago. The targets were young people, people who congregated in restaurants, at a sports venue and young and old in a concert hall. We heard some of the horrific stories of the survivors and others who were affected by the events and they will stay in our memory for many years to come. I refer in particular to the Irish girl who spoke last night about the bravery of her boyfriend who shielded her in the midst of blood and tears in the concert hall.
Today the Russians acknowledged the fact that the Metrojet Airbus was brought down by a bomb. That brings home to us the challenging times in which we live. The current events all started in the Arab Spring and also because of what happened in Syria. Countries such as Morocco were able to overcome the difficulties, as was Tunisia up to earlier this year when ISIS attacked there as well and where many Irish people were affected.
What everyone has said today is that we must all stand together. That is extremely important. In the Stade de France, after the bombings, people congregated on the pitch and as they left the stadium they sang the French national anthem. This is liberty. This is freedom. They are the values we all stand for in Europe and in the world, and that is extremely important.
We know that 3,000 to 4,000 Muslims from all over Europe went to Syria in recent years. Deputy Dooley alluded to the fact that 30 Muslims went from this country but most of them have come home. The indication is that three of them died in Syria. It is estimated that between 200 and 300 people in Europe have been radicalised.
I hope this event will be the last such occasion but it is difficult to know whether that will be the case. Britain is on high alert. It is highly likely that something could happen there. We are at the exact opposite end of the scale. It is considered highly unlikely that a terrorist incident will occur here. What is very important for all of us, which is evident from the information emerging from the Paris shootings, is to be mindful that the event started in another country, namely, Belgium, and those involved were able to commute on the TGV or by car to Paris to commit the atrocities on Friday night last.
This is where joined-up thinking is needed and clearly, closer relationships between the police force are required. Here at home, the Garda has done a very good job in this regard. It is monitoring the position in Ireland, where there are approximately 50,000 Muslims, and has a close relationship with the Muslim community here. The majority of those 20 or 30 fighters who went to the Middle East to fight travelled to support their fellow Muslims in the overthrowing of oppressive regimes or for humanitarian reasons. Nevertheless, there always will be people who return home radicalised and I must commend the Garda, which mixes with the Muslim community, in this regard. The Garda also has members who speak the ethnic languages, who build on that relationship with the Muslim community and who engage with it. This extremely important because that is where the Garda will get its information.
No Members thus far have spoken about the lone wolves who also engage in attacks. These are people about whom nothing is known because they do not travel abroad and are not part of the groups of people who travel to Syria. As Members are aware, it is easy to go to Syria, as one can travel from Dublin to Istanbul and then go overland to Syria very quickly. However, there also are lone wolves operating, that is, people who have been radicalised on the Internet. Consequently, joined-up thinking is also needed in this regard. As I stated, the approach taken by the Garda here has been commended by the United Nations counter-terrorism committee and that is important because the Garda both communicates and engages.
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, I engage with the Muslim community and have met the imams here many times. As I have stated, they are moderate in their outlook and as the Taoiseach noted earlier today, “Islam is a religion of peace. It is a religion of truth, kindness and compassion. It is not a religion of hatred, violence or terror”. That message has been sent across the globe by most Muslim people, which is very important.
The challenge of preventing further atrocities from happening again is very difficult. While President Hollande has stated France is at war, I reiterate the importance of the police and the communities having a good relationship. This will be very important as we move forward. We are challenged by several terrorist groups, not just ISIS, which include al-Shabaab, a group that operated in Somalia, Boko Haram, which is another terrorist group operating in Nigeria and, of course, al-Qaeda. It is a challenging task. In January of this year,
I visited Morocco where I met the Prime Minister. Deputy Dooley referred earlier to migrants and this meeting took place just before 800 people were drowned in the Mediterranean. It was at that stage that Europe woke up to what was happening. The Prime Minister of Morocco painted a frightening picture for me as to the lawlessness in Libya and the people crossing into it. It is very important that people here should be sympathetic towards the genuine refugees who come here from Syria but there also are economic migrants who are coming in from other countries. Moreover, this business of people crossing into Europe is highly lucrative.
In this context, I met the Deputy Speaker of the Slovenian Parliament recently and he told me that of the 1,400 people who were screened at the Slovenian border, only 47 of them were from Syria; the rest were economic migrants. There is a challenge here for all of us, in that we must be welcoming of those genuine people who have been affected by the violence in Syria but at the same time, we must protect our borders. As I stated, it is important to recognise the work that is being done by the security services and for there be greater co-operation between the forces.
I am pleased the French ambassador and his staff came into the Visitors Gallery today to hear these statements, which show the close solidarity between our two countries. Members remember the victims, as they remember the victims of previous terrorist atrocities, and hope their deaths will mark a turning point in how we deal with the crisis currently facing the world.