Thursday, 17 May 2012
Topical Issue Debate
I welcome the opportunity to address this important issue. The Minister is well aware of the considerable publicity on the security issues that have arisen at Dublin Airport and within the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA. It is my understanding the DAA and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have, for the past six weeks, been aware of concerns about an audit of security procedures at the airport. For that reason, we are deeply concerned the Department did not move more quickly to address this issue. The Minister is also aware of the concerns of the people who fly through the airport and, more particularly, the impact this has on business people who must transfer through other airports, particularly Heathrow. It is the case that many people who must necessarily travel through Heathrow must now be screened again there, which will delay access to other locations and airports. It also has a negative impact on Ireland as a place to do business and as a tourist destination.
I ask that the Minister clarify the following issues. When did the Department become aware of the issue concerning the audit of goods sold within the airport environment? Are there any implications for the other two major State airports in Shannon and Cork? Nobody is suggesting there is an immediate crisis or that anything particularly nefarious has taken place but, unfortunately, there is an inability to provide the appropriate recognition of where goods sold in the airport environment emanate, the traceability of same or to stand over the fact that the goods have not been tampered with or could be used in some kind of criminal plot. That raises serious concerns in the minds of the travelling public, and as a result, Ireland has been presented as less than whole in its security arrangements in the airport environment.
This is damaging and the issue should not have arisen. My understanding is this audit by the European Commission was not unscheduled and the Department and DAA were well aware of the procedures in place and that the check would be done. It is disappointing that when it is known a State agency is not conforming to regulations, nothing is done when an audit is allowed to take place. My understanding is that it will take two months to put in place appropriate procedures to allow passengers to transit other airports without having to go through screening or security checks again. If that is so, it is outrageous that remedial action did not take place when the Department and the DAA first became aware of the problem. Will the Minister clarify the issue and the question of why it took so long - or the process of an audit - to spur the Department and the DAA to action?
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter, which I am dealing with on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. I welcome the Deputy to the House as we were a little concerned that he had been delayed at the security gates.
In fairness, the Acting Chairman could have provided at least an extra minute to cope with the obvious sprints he had to make down the corridor to get here in good time.
This is a serious issue and I thank the Deputy for raising it. In light of recent comment about the outcome of the European Commission's inspection of Dublin Airport, I state at the outset that Dublin Airport is safe for passengers, aircraft and all users of the airport. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for aviation security policy and for ensuring compliance by airports, airlines and other relevant entities with national and international aviation security requirements. This function is carried out by the Department through the implementation of a comprehensive quality control programme, including audits, inspections and tests at Irish State and regional airports, with the aim of ensuring security at Irish airports meets EU and international requirements.
The implementation of security measures at individual airports within the State is, for operational reasons, a matter for the individual airport operator concerned and for all entities operating within the airport environment. In addition to the comprehensive compliance monitoring regime implemented by the Department at Dublin Airport and all other airports in the State, there is a high level of interaction between the Department and the DAA on an ongoing basis on aviation security matters. The DAA is also represented at the national civil aviation security committee, which is chaired by the Department and meets at a minimum biannually. Additionally Dublin Airport, as with other airports in the State, has its own airport security committee that meets regularly throughout the year.
For security reasons I will not comment on the specifics of security at Dublin Airport or any other airport. In the course of the Department's compliance monitoring activities, if and when aviation security related issues arise, the Department works closely with the entity concerned - and there are a range of entities involved, including airports, airlines, catering companies, cargo companies, etc. - to rectify these issues as quickly as possible in line with national and European Union legislative requirements.
The recent European Commission inspection of security at Dublin Airport was carried out at the end of March. The Commission undertakes these audits at all airports in the EU periodically, in line with EU aviation security legislation, to assess compliance with the common aviation security rules. During the inspection, the Commission found a number of deficiencies and, as a result, other member states may impose some additional security procedures on aircraft arriving from Dublin into their airports. These additional procedures are not expected to have any impact on passengers at Dublin Airport. However, passengers departing from Dublin Airport arriving at other EU airports and transferring through those airports en route to their final destination may be required to undergo security screening again at the airport where they are transferring.
For security reasons I cannot go into the specific details of the issues identified but the Minister and his Department, working in conjunction with the DAA, have taken immediate action to rectify these issues. In that light, a meeting of the national civil aviation security committee was convened yesterday by the Department to address the matter with relevant parties. One of the deficiencies identified during the Commission inspection has been addressed, and intensive work is ongoing to address the second issue in as short a timeframe as possible. To ensure security at the airport is maintained, Dublin Airport is implementing back-up procedures to address the second matter in the short term while a longer-term solution is implemented.
It is important to state Dublin Airport is safe for passengers, aircraft and all users of the airport. All necessary steps are being taken to ensure the second remaining issue is addressed as quickly as possible to ensure the airport fully meets all EU aviation security requirements, those additional security procedures imposed on aircraft arriving in other EU airports from Dublin can be lifted as soon as possible, and to ensure sustained compliance with all EU and international aviation security standards in the future.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply, but, unfortunately, the questions I posed in the course of my contribution remain unanswered. Therefore, I will repeat them. When the Department and the Dublin Airport Authority were both well aware that the audit of the processing of goods through the airport did not reach the standards set in the directives and expected by other airports, why did the Department not move in advance of the scheduled audit by Commission compliance unit personnel? What are the implications for Shannon Airport and Cork Airport in the light of the deficiencies found at Dublin Airport? Must there be a separate inspection of these airports before there must be a change of procedures at either of these locations or they fall foul of the monitoring standards in other airports through which passengers using Shannon and Cork Airports transit? As the information sought might not be immediately available to the Minister, perhaps he might communicate my request to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I would be happy for it to provide me with the information later. I appreciate the matter does not fall within the Minister's competency.
I am not aware of implications arising from these events for either Cork Airport or Shannon Airport; the inspection was of Dublin Airport. The action taken by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department was to call a meeting to address issues raised, one of which has already been addressed. I will certainly ask my colleague to furnish the Deputy with any information I am not in a position to provide.