herald

Friday 6 December 2019

Months of investigations have gone into ex-soldier's activities

Lisa Smith. Pic: Tom Conachy
Lisa Smith. Pic: Tom Conachy

Lisa Smith and her young daughter arrived at Dublin Airport on a flight from Istanbul, Turkey, yesterday morning, some four years after the former member of the Defence Forces left the country to join Islamic State in Syria.

Ms Smith was immediately arrested by gardai on suspicion of terrorist offences and is being detained at a South Dublin garda station for questioning. Her young child is in the care of Ms Smith's family.

The 38-year-old's arrival back in Ireland comes some nine months after her case first emerged in the public domain. Since then, the Government has been co-ordinating how the State should respond to her unique case.

This has been complicated by the fact an entirely innocent young child, an Irish citizen, is caught up in the situation.

This has been at the forefront of Government thinking, in addition to handling another Irish citizen who has made a number of interesting statements about her activities in media interviews.

Bi-weekly meetings have been taking place between officials in the departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice and An Garda Siochana.

What happens now is largely dependent on how gardai approach the matter and whether they decide to charge the Dundalk native.

Garda Special Branch and military intelligence have been investigating Ms Smith's background and her activities, and months of painstaking investigating will inform their questioning of Ms Smith in the coming days.

Charge

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a strong indication of the direction the case may take on Saturday when he said: "In terms of Lisa Smith, gardai are ready to speak to her and they may be in a position to charge her, and if they do then a prosecution may follow. That is all I can really say about that."

But the Government is keen to allow the natural course of justice to play out.

"An Garda Siochana and the Director of Public Prosecutions are responsible for criminal investigations based on facts and evidence in all cases and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those matters," Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said in a statement yesterday.

Ministers are also very keen to avoid a media circus around the case after suggestions Ms Smith will do interviews when home, noting a request from RTE's Late Late Show last month.

However, within Government there is an exceptionally dim view taken of this with Mr Flanagan in particular privately arguing strongly against Ms Smith being interviewed by Ryan Tubridy.

The Government is also acutely conscious of the response of the Islamic community in Ireland and will look to its leaders and how they respond.

The concerns about Ms Smith choosing to practise her faith in Ireland have been raised in high-level meetings.

Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri, chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, has previously said that Ms Smith would not be welcome in Irish mosques or Islamic community centres if she returned.

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