Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been criticized by human rights groups for suggesting suspected jihadists should be deported even if there was not enough evidence to prosecute them.

Fitzgerald, who is also tanaiste, said she would “make no apology” for deporting individuals in cases where intelligence suggested they were supporting Islamic extremism.

She told the Irish Independent in an exclusive interview that while Ireland was “not likely” to face attack, the authorities were keeping tabs on “a limited number” of suspected extremist sympathizers in the country and there was a need to be vigilant.

She said a “lone wolf” attack, such as last week’s terror atrocity in Nice, was “always a possibility.”

Her comments come less than two weeks after a 52-year-old man, alleged to be the foremost Irish-based facilitator of ISIL fighters, was deported to Jordan, despite claims that he had previously been tortured by security services there.

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Fitzgerald would not comment on the case specifically. But she said such deportations were justified to protect Irish citizens. She added that it was “the reality of life” that intelligence was different to evidence.

“Obviously in appropriate cases you will have prosecutions and you will go the criminal route. Other times you have to take actions to protect the state,” she said.

“If that means following a certain line that ends up with somebody not being in the country, and I am not referencing that case, then that is the appropriate way to go.

“A state has its right to protect its citizens and defend itself and if there are appropriate actions that we can take that result in people being safe we have to do it.”

The deported Jordanian had been living in Ireland for 16 years and never faced prosecution in the country for terrorist offenses despite claims by authorities that he was “a senior ISIL operative” who had made arrangements for others outside the country to travel to fight in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The allegations against the man, who cannot be named due to a court order, came into the public domain after he mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to his deportation.

Fitzgerald said it was important to avoid the isolation of Muslim communities that had occurred in France and Belgium, and she pledged to put funding into programs to combat any potential for radicalization.

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The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Amnesty International was critical after the justice minister said she would “make no apology” for expelling suspected jihadists from the country.

ICCL accepted that Ireland had the right to deport people but only under certain circumstances.

A spokesperson said, “This state cannot lawfully deport anyone to a place where they might face a risk of torture or ill treatment. To suggest otherwise would merely be saber-rattling, which would be profoundly unhelpful at this time.”

Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International Ireland, said, “If Irish law enforcement authorities have a reasonable suspicion based on credible, sufficient and legally obtained evidence that any individual has committed a criminal offense, including terrorism, they should prosecute that individual.

“Any suggestion that the state is not equipped to do so, that it will rely upon deportation rather than prosecution, is worrying from both a human rights and a security perspective.”