DUBLIN (Reuters) – An Irish citizen aligned to Islamic State who is set to be deported from Turkey has the right to return to Ireland but the government’s main concern is for the safe repatriation of her two-year-old daughter, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.
Turkey began deporting foreign citizens linked to Islamic State on Monday, starting a programme to repatriate detainees following its offensive last month against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.
Coveney confirmed that Lisa Smith and her daughter were the two Irish citizens identified by Ankara for deportation.
Dublin has said for months that it has a responsibility to find a way to bring Smith back to Ireland after she became aligned to the militant group in Syria. Smith has said in media interviews that she wished to return home.
“The Taoiseach (prime minister) and I have always been clear that the adult in question, as an Irish citizen, is entitled to consular assistance and has the right to return to Ireland,” Coveney told parliament, confirming Smith’s identity.
“My primary concern is a two-year-old little girl who in my view, as an Irish citizen, we have an obligation to protect and that is what is driving all of this.”
Turkey said on Monday it had deported two captives from Islamic State, a German and an American, and that 23 others to be deported in coming days were all European.
Ankara says it has captured 287 militants in northeast Syria and already holds hundreds more Islamic State suspects. It has accused European countries of being too slow to take back citizens who travelled to fight in the Middle East.
The Kurdish YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces against Islamic State, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails in northeast Syria and overseen camps where relatives of fighters have sought shelter. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has previously said that a security assessment would need to be carried out to ensure that Smith “does not become a threat to life and limb in Ireland.”
Coveney said Dublin had been working for some time with a range of partners to assess options for returning both citizens to Ireland and that defence force personnel were recently sent to support its embassy in Turkey and not to extract Smith, as some media reports suggested.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Grant McCool)