THE MIDNIGHT SWIMMER by EDWARD WILSON ; a review

THE MIDNIGHT SWIMMER by EDWARD WILSON

This is the first novel I’ve read by Edward Wilson. It won’t be the last. Written in 2011 it is a stylish spy thriller set in the early 1960s and focuses on the build up to the Cuba Crisis.

As this was part of my master’s dissertation – way back in 1969 – I was immediately interested. I’ve always maintained a keen interest in the Crisis, particularly as fresh material became available after the Soviet Union collapsed and as Western documents were declassified . This book answers at least one of the questions that long puzzled observers – why did Kruschev take the gamble to seek to install nukes in Cuba. Back in the Sixties the assumption was that he was by nature a gambler and that his rhetoric about “burying” the West necessitated him taking risks. His great agricultural plan – the “virgin lands” – had flopped and, faced with growing economic problems at home, the reality of the Missile Gap in the USA’s favour, and the growing disapproval of the Politburo, the common assumption was that he felt he had no option but to gamble.

The novel has an interesting slant on this based on actual events which were only finally confirmed in the Glasnost era of the late Eighties. I won’t reveal it as it would be too much of a spoiler to do so but it certainly casts Kruschev’s actions in a different light .The book also advances a completely fictitious answer (I think) to another of the questions, but again I will not spoil the enjoyment of readers by revealing it. There’s a fascinating interweaving of known fact and real personalities of the era in the story which hang together well and, for me at any rate, at least pose the question “Could it have been like this?” No more can be asked of any work of historical fiction or “faction.”

The book is the third of a series (five to date) featuring a British intelligence agent, Catesby, who, together with his boss, Bone, must tread a delicate line between double dealing and betrayal at a time when suspicions abounded between the CIA and MI6 about possible traitors even as the international situation teetered on the very brink of nuclear conflict. One critic has commented on an earlier Wilson novel as showing governments and their secret services as “cynically exploitative and utterly ruthless.” The same is certainly true here. The action moves between Britain, the USA, East Germany, and Cuba as tension mounts. There are conflicts of conscience. The book’s blurb notes: “The author poses the fundamental question that few spy novelists answer: What is the greater crime? Betraying your country or betraying the person you love?” The blurb could have chosen to add: “Betraying your country or acting as you saw fit to help save humanity?”

Edward Wilson was born in the USA and served with US Special Forces in Vietnam where he was decorated. He subsequently wrote what has been described as the best novel about the Vietnam War, “A River in May” published in 2002, when he was in his mid -50s. He left the USA for Europe in the seventies, eventually settling in Britain in 1976, renounced his US citizenship in 1983, becoming a teacher and full time writer. He is a socialist. The fifth book featuring Catesby, “A Very British Ending,” was published in April 2016.
I would highly recommend the book, and, on this evidence, the writer.

S.F.
25/9

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THE FORTY FIFTH U.S. PRESIDENT

THE FORTY FIFTH U.S. PRESIDENT

I was asked,at short notice, to write a piece for the PSEU Review magazine on the prospects for the forthcoming U.S. Presidential Election and any likely implications for Ireland from the outcome.

“Like most people this side of the Atlantic, I’ve watched with fascination the developing race for the U.S. Presidency.

The emergence of Donald Trump as Republican candidate has been astonishing. The only person now standing between him and the White House is Hilary Clinton, who if elected will make history as the USA’s first female President. Trump’s candidacy seemed initially bizarre and unlikely, but, as I write, with less than seven weeks to polling day, the outcome is currently too close to call, with Trump having reeled in Hilary’s lead in dramatic fashion in recent weeks.

There is still a long way to go, and, with the caveat that a major terrorist attack could prove a game changer, much may hinge on the outcome of the televised debates, or the emergence of some currently unknown unknown – two weeks ago who could have forecast Hilary’s pneumonia? Or again, one candidate (which most pundits assume will be Clinton) may start to pull ahead in the final few weeks as the undecided make up their minds. But right now in terms of secured states Clinton has a far from decisive lead, with Trump ahead or level in a number of crucial states including Ohio, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina, while the Clinton lead in Pennsylvania is diminishing. Either way one of them will be the next President. What can we forecast about the new administration’s policies and does who wins matter for Ireland?

Taking the easy one, Hilary Clinton, first. She is a Democrat, succeeding another Democrat, for whom she worked as Secretary of State. She is widely experienced in what can and cannot be achieved in terms of getting things done domestically and internationally. Expect therefore more of the same as we have seen from Obama. The main domestic issues are likely to be consolidating the improving economy as well as the healthcare system and attempting again to sort out some form of immigration reform, perhaps helped by a stronger Democratic presence on Capitol Hill.

In the foreign policy area she will push on with closing Guantanamo, and continuing the thawing of relations with Cuba. Outside the hemisphere she will continue with current US policy in the Middle East, attempting to sort out the mess that is Iraq and Syria and further pressing on ISIS. Her options are limited. Much will depend on the relationship with Putin. Ireland is unlikely to figure largely unless there is action to curb “corporate inversion”, where US companies have their headquarters overseas to avoid US taxes, something both Clinton and Trump have called for. She could be involved were there to be an impasse on negotiations over the open Border issue in the context of Brexit; a role here for Bill, perhaps? We could well be in for a Presidential visit.

Trump is another story, and at this stage very difficult to predict. He captured the Republican nomination by being outrageous and stoking passions which appealed to an inchoate coalition of right wingers, Tea Party members and disillusioned blue collar elements. In so doing he alienated many traditional moderate Republicans and his chances of winning rest on how many of them will trickle back. He has recently changed his campaign team, hiring Steve Bannon to intensify attacks on Clinton, but also giving some hints of toning down his rhetoric, perhaps in an attempt to broaden his appeal.The run-in to the actual vote will be interesting.

Should he win, bear in mind that everyone loves a winner! An early indication of how he will proceed will be in Cabinet formation, particularly who he nominates for Secretaries of State, Defence and Homeland Security. But several things can be predicted with some confidence. There will be no deportation of millions to Mexico or anywhere else. Quite simply the US administration does not have the resources to undertake the process. Tens of thousands of additional staff would have to be recruited, vetted and trained, from border patrol officers to judges and clerks to run the new courts required, to detention centre staff to hold the throngs awaiting deportation. Former head of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff commented that without suspending the Constitution and the police acting like North Koreans “it ain’t happening.” Even targeting only criminals would require an exponential ramping up of resources.

Similarly impractical are suggestions to ban Muslims from entering the USA, while the physical problems and costs associated with the Wall idea, including managing the water flows, rule this out except as a long term aspirational project. In Foreign Policy, Trump, for all the rhetoric, will be tied largely by where the USA is “at” currently in the Middle East. A close examination of recent remarks suggests that, stripped of rhetoric, he will adhere to current policy in broadest terms; there are few options to do more. Trump’s unpredictability is legend but whether, faced by reality, his loud mouth threats will come to anything is questionable.

On internal and economic affairs Trump is standard right wing Republican. His “magical thinking” tax plans will reward the rich by cuts, without spending cuts to balance. As well as corporate inversion, of interest to Ireland is his proposal to cut US corporate tax from 35% to 15%. Whether any of this, or renegotiation of NAFTA , will pass Congress is doubtful, while “getting tough with China” and backing out of the TPP could backfire and will probably just amount to empty rhetoric.

One point to interest over-taxed Irish readers. Trump proposes a top tax rate of 33% for those earning over $154,000 pa. Clinton’s sliding scale reaches 33% at $190,150, remains at that up to $ 413,350 and includes a 39% band from $415,050 to $5 million pa!

S.F.
22/9

THE HUMAN FLIES by HANS OLAV LAHLUM

THE HUMAN FLIES by HANS OLAV LAHLUM

This is the first novel in a series by Lahlum a young (43) Norwegian writer, with several biographies already to his name. Lahlum is a National Chess master (rating 2204) in the country that boasts world champion Magnus Carlsen. Published in English in 2014, it was the recent choice of my local Murder and Mystery book club.

In some ways this quirky novel is structured like a chess puzzle. Not just “White to play and mate in three,” but rather the totally artificial construct of most chess puzzles, which postulate positions rarely if ever arising on the chessboard.

The setting is Oslo in 1968 when a hero of the Norwegian Resistance during World War Two is found murdered in an apartment building. All the residents of the building are suspects. The narrator, Detective Inspector Kristiansen, is lost for inspiration and is prevailed upon to seek assistance from an intellectually brilliant wheelchair bound woman, daughter of an influential wealthy family friend. He provides her with details of the case and she points him in the directions to go. There follows a painstaking sequence of interviews, repeated as necessary, with the building residents and other people the investigation turns up, to narrow down the search for the killer, including a gathering together of the suspects for the reading of the murdered man’s will.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is classic Agatha Christie, with a good dose of Conan Doyle thrown in for good measure. And intentionally so, with both quoted several times in the novel. They’re all there: the thick policeman, the brilliant and wealthy amateur sleuth (who’s also quite a nasty snob), the near country house setting with all the suspects conveniently located together, the dash of romance and skeletons abounding in the various cupboards of the suspects. Even the title itself reflects some of this; human flies are people whose life is forever altered by one event – or non-event – and who are forever defining themselves with reference to that event, like flies forever circling over a carcase.

Given the subject matter we get some insights and information on the occupation of Norway during the Second World War, in particular concerning the hiding of fugitives from the Nazis and smuggling them across the border with Sweden.  The Second World War continues to haunt certain memories in Scandinavia and the Baltics and is a constant in fiction across the region, hardly surprising in the light of collaboration, armed resistance, cooperation, and the participation of volunteers from all countries fighting with the Nazis on the Eastern Front. All outside the scope of this novel except in so far as one of the suspects had a Nazi past while the victim was a Resistance hero.

Does the construct work? Yes if you can suspend belief and transport yourself back to the genteel circumstances and lifestyle of the middle classes of Agatha Christie’s heyday and if you believe that murders can be solved by the application of brainpower alone. This plus the total omission of any reference to normal police work or involvement of other policemen, no mention of forensics,  scene of crime preservation, or how and by whom other lines of enquiry are carried out. Plus the involvement in and the transmission of case details to an untrained member of the public.

No, otherwise. As noted earlier it’s like a chess problem but with at best a tenuous relationship with the real world. Aficionados of Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, Anne Holt and others will not be impressed.

S.F. 19/9

 

 

THE CONSTANT SOLDIER by WILLIAM RYAN ; a review.

THE CONSTANT SOLDIER: WILLIAM RYAN

MANTLE 2016

The Second World War was not just another war. It was global, it was ferocious and it killed more than any other war in history. Yet what marks it out also is that during its course, and inextricably mixed with it, a determined attempt was made to wipe out the Jewish race. Roughly half the Jews in the world were murdered over a relatively short period. Some of the consequences remain with us today. This extermination attempt, refined and honed  to increase its effectiveness, went hand in hand with a with a military and political campaign of invasion, murder, ethnic cleansing and exploitation  directed at the peoples and countries of Central Europe on a virtually unprecedented scale.

The only possible rival in recorded history, in terms of scale and effectiveness, was probably the Mongol holocaust in Central Asia and the subsequent aborted but undefeated attack on Central Europe in the Thirteenth Century. Yet the Mongols were essentially a temporary phenomenon, a transient federation of nomadic tribes out of Central Asia, brutally welded together, brilliantly led by the mediaeval equivalent of Napoleon and supported by an officer corps chosen by meritocracy and as a fighting force far superior militarily to the moribund feudal armies which faced them. Twentieth Century Germany by contrast was one of the most advanced European societies with a long and enviable cultural history, embracing, inter alia, music, literature and philosophy, an advanced welfare state – for its time – and, Prussia apart, no particularly strong tradition of militarism. Then the country was hijacked by a madman and his supporters.

Nazi Germany continues to fascinate in all its manifestations. One subset of questions relates  less to the how and more to the why so many Germans  continued to lend support and legitimacy to the regime even though its nature and actions were demonstrably abhorrent and , certainly after Stalingrad,  though it was clear that the regime was driving the whole of Germany into disaster. Debate continues to rage about how much the “ordinary German” knew about the Death Camps, and the mass murders of the Jews and others. H.H. Kirst, author of the Gunner Asch novels and other satirical works about Nazi Germany and its aftermath, commented wryly on his Nazi party membership that he did not really know he “was in a club of murderers”.

An equally pertinent question is, even if they knew or suspected, what could they do about it? Nazi Germany was a brutal and efficient dictatorship, opponents had been liquidated in sequence (remember Niemoller’s poem “First They Came…..”) and the consequences of defiance were likely to prove drastic, not just for the individual but for relatives as well. Those who moralise or pontificate about following your conscience have very rarely had to come to grips with a modern totalitarian dictatorship. Those with loaded guns call the shots. Passive defiance was possible, but unlikely to derail the murder machine. (The same considerations apply, mutatis mutandis, to living in the Soviet Union under Stalin.) And even the 20 July Plot demonstrated how well dug in the regime was.

There was also the aspect of what Joachim Fest, in his memorable study of Hitler, referred to as “widening the circle of criminality.” The more people could be involved in the crimes, the more likely they were to acquiesce and eschew protest. Thus, in the aftermath of the invasion of Russia, as the special teams of murderers followed or accompanied the troops in, the Wermacht was pressurised and compromised to witness, sanction, support logistically and participate in the crimes of what Fest termed the “Third World War.”

These “Einsatzgruppen” were not necessarily just hardened Nazis and SS but included numbers of ordinary and retired police, drawn into the squads as police forces were reorganised and rationalised and as the scale of the mass murders demanded more staff at the killing end. In the stunning novel, “Ostland” (2013) David Thomas tells the true story of how Berlin’s top criminal detective – not a committed Nazi – Georg Heuzer, became the head of the Einsatzgrup operating in Minsk, where he personally supervised the murder of thirty thousand chiefly Austrian Jews, reverting to a police officer after the War and rising to become police chief in the Rhineland Palatinate before eventually being sentenced for war crimes in 1963. There were more like him, individuals led step-by-step into compromise and crime.

All this is by way of introduction to William Ryan’s new novel, “The Constant Soldier”. The novel was launched in Dublin on 1 September and has been garnering very favourable reviews in recent weeks, many containing “spoilers” about the plot, which, however, in no way diminishes enjoyment of the book. The author is already well established for his three crime novels with a difference. They are set in Stalinist Russia in the 1930s and feature Alexei Korolev, a Moscow CID Militia captain who is tasked to investigate some high profile murder cases with political connections. Against the background of the Great Terror, when one wrong move can result in a “holiday in Siberia” – Stalin’s jocular remark – or worse, Korolev must walk a moral and political tightrope to make progress. The Korolev books paint vividly and sympathetically the dilemma of the honourable man trying to cope in a totalitarian and mendacious society where values are reversed or non – existent. “The Constant Soldier” is a new departure in theme – a stand-alone novel set during the last year of the Second World War, yet the similarities with Korolev’s moral dilemmas are clear.

The novel’s first twenty pages are particularly memorable, recounting the gradual emergence of consciousness and awareness of a badly wounded soldier being transported by train back to his home. That home is a village in Silesia, in a mixed Polish –German rural community conquered and occupied by the Germans.  Here it is not just the matter of a murder. The whole setting is a crime scene. Most of the Poles have been driven out or murdered, their farms expropriated. Some are Partisans, watching, waiting in the woods as the Red Army advances.  A “work camp” and a mine are nearby – euphemisms for murder camps and a source of forced labour when required.  Could the camp be Auschwitz ? Or another? There were enough of them.  We are never told.  The camp remains in the wings throughout the novel, the horrors hinted at but never explicitly described.

Central to the story, rather, is the Hut, a rest and recreation lodge in the village for SS officers and personnel taking refuge or recuperation from their “toils” in the camp or stresses from the war. (Keeping up the morale of those tasked with mass murder was, apparently a priority for the Nazi leadership. I’ve come across several anecdotes of Himmler and others, and one of Ryan’s characters actually quotes Himmler, comforting those at the coal face of extermination and mass murder –  though at the right end of the gun-  acknowledging the “strain” but promising a better future once the task was complete! Thomas records that at Heuzer’s trial it was revealed that the Minsk murderers were partially anaesthetised with a bottle of vodka per head per day.) The Hut was staffed by SS foot soldiers until, as casualties at the front mounted, they were drafted into active service. Cleaning and cooking in the Hut was carried out by female slave prisoners.

The book’s central character, Paul Brandt, a Wermacht soldier, has returned home a hero, disfigured and mutilated from the Eastern Front. Not a Nazi, he had enlisted under threat. He returns wounded internally as well as externally, haunted by the murders he saw and was ordered to take part in. He knows the war is lost and longs for an opportunity to atone for his crimes. The opportunity comes when he is offered work as the supervisory steward at the SS Hut. Among the female prisoners working there is a girl from his past, Judith, who does not recognise his scarred and burned face and for whom he feels responsibility for her arrest and enslavement. He now has a mission – to protect and look out for Judith and her colleagues as well as doing what he can to protect his father and sister, neither of them Nazis and both well aware of what is happening in the camps.

To survive, let alone carry out his mission, involves living a lie in a fraught environment , where casual murder and brutality are commonplace and where, despite the slight leeway he is accorded as a decorated hero who has made visible sacrifices for “the Reich,” he must constantly be on guard. Ryan conveys very well the fin de siècle atmosphere which abounds, the doublethink and speak about ultimate victory when clearly nemesis is only a matter of time. The characters surrounding him include a committed Nazi, an amoral and foolish local mayor and several SS officers, as well as the Hut Commandant, Obersturmfuhrer Neumann, after Brandt the most interesting character in the story.

Intelligent and perceptive, Neumann from the start is clearly aware of some or most of Brandt’s feelings and demonstrates at several points that, though a Nazi and SS Officer, he has not bought in to the whole package. Indeed the subplot of the story is essentially the personal development and disintegration of Neumann, never quite total, and never fully revealed or even directly hinted at to Brandt. When another SS officer commits suicide Neumann confiscates his records of Mendelssohn, a Jewish, and therefore banned, composer, to play them himself. (And shockingly, Brandt discovers, among the dead man’s possessions, a box containing gold fillings ripped from Jewish victims at the camp.)

Neumann is not alone. There are other Nazis also less enamoured of what they have done, but for Neumann, his own crimes have put him beyond redemption and he remains haunted by images of his victims. A World War One veteran, he broods as to how these things could have happened.  A March Violet (the derisory name given by “old” Nazis to those who joined the Party after Hitler became Chancellor) he hadn’t planned on becoming a murderer. “It had just turned out that way.”  And of the Jews: ”mostly no one had ever imagined it would come to this. Until it had, of course.”

Brandt plots and schemes, finding allies among the Ukrainian SS guards, who know only too well what fate awaits them when the Soviets arrive. But ostensibly he must maintain the façade of normalcy, even as the Nazi world collapses. There are Christmas festivities, an incongruous New Year’s hunt, photographs to be taken, drunken SS to be humoured, while the news gets worse on an almost daily basis. Paris has fallen. Warsaw has fallen; and Krakow. The sound of Russian artillery can be heard. The exodus of German refugees begins. The final drama is about to be played out.

There is a counterpoint to all of this – Polya, a feisty young Russian, driver of a T34 tank for two years, a battle hardened veteran who has nevertheless retained her joie de vivre and femininity. She longs to get the job done and is enamoured of her tank commander Lapshin. At interludes in the main story her exploits intrude as her tank, and the Red Army, gets ever closer to Brandt’s village. There are some vivid and savage action scenes featuring Polya’s tank. There’s no doubt where the author’s sympathies lie. Polya, and the advance of the Red Army, crushing and obliterating their opponents, are very much a terrible swift sword, wreaking vengeance for what was done after 1941. The tension is built excellently as the reader wonders what will happen when Polya and her tanks encounter Brandt and a rag tag collection of boys, drafted as the last line of defence.

“The Constant Soldier” is a compelling read. I finished it in two days. Nor is it easily forgotten.  In an Afterword the author points to an album of photographs taken in 1944/5 by a senior SS officer at Auschwitz as providing inspiration for his book. The photos show members of the SS relaxing and chilling out in an R and R hut located several kilometres from the camp just weeks before the Red Army liberated it. If ever Arendt’s “banality of evil” categorisation of Eichmann seems appropriate it is here. Anyone interested in morality tales and looking also for a damn good story should read the novel, surely one of the year’s best. Highly recommended.

Reviewed for Writing.ie.

S.F.

8/9/16

 

ISIS 1609 XCIII

ISIS

There IS a militant Islamic presence in Ireland. On July 6 a Jordanian living in Ireland since 2000 was deported. What made this gentleman special (300 odd have been deported this year ) is  that his deportation came after a lengthy legal battle, held in camera, in which the judge was finally convinced by the State that he was the main recruiter for ISIS in Ireland and  “ the foremost organiser and facilitator of travel “ for would-be ISIS fighters. His claim to reside in Ireland was on the basis of an Irish born son. While here he had been living on Irish Social Welfare. Justice Minister  Frances Fitzgerald made clear afterwards that the Government would deport as necessary where matters of national security were involved.

The deportation came a week before the mass murder in Nice of eighty five by an ISIS sympathiser. The spate of recent lone wolf terror attacks, including the horrendous Bastille Day massacre, has left much of Europe on edge wondering whether anywhere is safe. The simple answer is “Nowhere” but clearly there are degrees of threat. As elsewhere, threat assessment is being conducted here.

Irish people have had several brushes with Middle Eastern terrorism. Three Irish holiday makers were among those murdered in Tunisia last year and Irish people were among those wounded in the Paris Bataclan massacre last November. The roll call of murders and beheadings in Iraq included a couple of Irish citizens. And, going back a generation, in 1986, a young, totally innocent, Irish woman in London was duped by her Jordanian fiancée into attempting to carry a bomb disguised in a suitcase onto an EL AL 747.

It would be surprising if there weren’t some elements of radical Islam here, given the proximity of Britain, Ireland’s relatively easy going and open society and the number of immigrants to arrive since the Millenium. The official line is that threat of a direct terror attack here is moderate. This despite a bragging ISIS video last November which identified Ireland as part of the “kuffars” ( the n-word favoured by ISIS to describe Christians and others)forming the global “Coalition of Devils” opposed to the Islamic State. This may just mean that we are, like all infidels, fair game and clearly the possibility of a lone wolf attack can never be discounted totally. However, with this caveat, the official threat assessment looks reasonable for several reasons.

Realistically there are easier and more obvious targets. Ireland is not a NATO member; we are a militarily neutral country and not part of the coalition fighting ISIS ( a reason cited by ISIS when claiming different terrorist atrocities). It is true that Ireland permits US troops to stopover at Shannon Airport, but, against that, geographically Ireland is remote, an offshore island behind an offshore island, rendering logistics for any attack that more difficult. Moreover, for what it’s worth, Ireland has been seen as pro-Palestinian and Irish troops on UN Peacekeeping operations in the region have a high reputation.

The nature and position of the Muslim community in Ireland are also factors. Mao’s aphorism that a “guerrilla must move among the people as a fish swims in the sea” is relevant here. While there are a small numbers of ISIS activists known or suspected to be living here – the deportee was reported to be one of a group of about thirteen –   the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community in Ireland, as elsewhere,  are law abiding and have no truck with ISIS or militant Islam. The community is numerically small, roughly 50,000 or 1% of the population in the 2011 census, and, therefore hardly constituting a critical mass within which ISIS – or Al Qaida – could move with impunity. Indeed in Western Europe only Finland, Portugal and the Baltics have less Muslims, numerically and proportionately.

Moreover, Islam in Ireland, which is mainly of recent origin, has developed in a different pattern to those other European countries with large Muslim communities.  In Germany most are Turks, in France and Belgium most are from North Africa, in Britain most are from the Indian sub-Continent.  Muslims here appear more diverse in terms of race and ethnic origin and most came with established skill sets and for specific purposes rather than as refugees or economic migrants. An important consequence is that Ireland has no predominantly Muslim or immigrant ghettoes akin to Molenbeek  in Brussels or  one of the Parisian banlieues , where extremism flourishes among sections of the alienated young ( or indeed to Leeds, where three of the London Tube bombers grew up) . There is no sense or feeling that a separate community within the community is evolving here.

Yet a problem, however small, clearly exists and with alarm bells ringing in the aftermath of the July terror attacks,  the facts such as they are are being picked over by the media here . Security briefings suggest that up to fifty young Irish Muslims have gone to fight for ISIS. While this could be partly written off as rebellious and impressionable youth, there have also been calls in recent months from some of the Imams here  for closer engagement by the authorities with their communities as well as claims by them that extremists are active, lecturing and proselytising.  One factor is that  the common travel area with Britain makes it easy for radical preachers and recruiters  to travel here and hold private sessions. And, as experience elsewhere has shown, grooming over the Internet is virtually impossible to monitor.

The adequacy of our surveillance measures to combat any threat, particularly for a police force shredded by cuts since 2008, has been questioned. More resources have been promised to the Gardai to beef up the existing structures but these have yet to come on stream and there has been criticism from some Garda representatives that the force is ill prepared to deal with an atrocity.

There have been complaints also about the  lack of information and transparency on Ireland’s anti-terrorist security structures and operations  generally, in contrast to Britain. This, and the sharing of information with other security services, is clearly a delicate issue. Surveillance of terrorists here has traditionally been directed at republican terrorism , where for various reasons very little was divulged publicly and old habits die hard. Moreover, the threat from dissident republicans remains a real one, with men, weapons and explosives very much here on the island and constituting a real quantifiable threat.

Indeed the proximity of Britain adds another worrying dimension. Up to now attention and resources in the North have concentrated on dissident republicans, who constitute a clear and present danger,  both locally and in terms of possible infiltration, into Britain. There is now the additional possibility of Ireland being used as a base by Islamic extremists from which to plan or even mount an attack against Britain. However remote this may appear the British have been worried enough to brief at (anonymous)Ministerial level pointing out that Northern Ireland is not part of the U.K.’s “Prevent” strategy to combat violent extremism. Thrillers have been written around the subject. With increased vigilance let’s hope that nightmare scenario remains in the realm of fiction.

16/8