Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
61. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 482 and 484 of 29 January 2019, if a response will issue on the treatment of members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces as being exempt from airport security compliance on the basis that they receive once-off full background checks. [6350/19]
66. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the consideration he has given to reinstating the Airport Police and customs back onto the security compliance list with the completion of full background checks; if he has been contacted by the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, seeking full background checks for its officers within the Airport Police Service from An Garda Síochána; if an additional request of having 10% of all officers receive full background checks annually has been reviewed; if this offer has been addressed or accepted by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6351/19]
There is utter chaos in Dublin Airport as a result of the Department working at the behest of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, behest to change the working arrangements of Airport Police and customs officers who, since the foundation of the State, have been exempt from security compliance conditions. They are now forced to go through normal airport security which is having a significant impact on their ability to do their job. Their health and safety, along with their welfare at work, is also affected. Exemptions are given to Army and Garda members on the basis of one-off security checks. Why can this not be given to those at the coalface, namely, the Airport Police and customs staff?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 66 together.
Aviation security is a priority area at national and EU level which is under constant review and scrutiny in response to new intelligence on threats and risks. Ireland is obliged to play its part in the international effort to make flying as secure and safe as possible. If we aspire to be a highly connected nation, it is essential that our international airports are up to international best standards in security terms.
A number of reviews and audits of security practices and procedures at the State airports pointed to the need to introduce improvements in staff screening arrangements. For example, in 2017 the Department invited the European Civil Aviation Conference to review security at Dublin Airport. Several recommendations were made, including relating to improving security screening and checks for so-called insider threats. The new enhancements were adopted by the National Civil Aviation Security Committee, NCASC, on the basis of a risk assessment by the IAA, which has responsibility for overseeing compliance with aviation security requirements.
On the matter of how and why specific decisions have been taken in respect of certain categories of people working at our airports, these details are security related and, as such, are highly confidential. I cannot be drawn on these details and I am sure the Deputy will understand that. However, these decisions are informed by international best practices and risk assessment. No organisation is exempt from compliance with the regulations governing aviation security.
New provisions are on the way at European level which will introduce additional aspects to the background checks carried out in civil aviation, including the use of security intelligence. When these new EU measures come into effect, they will become part of the overall suite of security measures now applied at Irish airports, including the recently introduced enhanced screening measures, with the objective of improving security practices and security culture at our airports.
There has been a high level of engagement on the implementation of the new security enhancements introduced by my Department. While there is always an element of adjustment and inconvenience to individuals, these new measures are in the broader public and national interest. As threats and risk to civil aviation change over time, so too must the security response. This requires those people charged with providing security to be flexible and innovative. I have no intention, nor any desire, to interfere in softening any security measure that brings aviation security to a higher standard.
I think the Minister will be revisiting this topic in the future. All of us are in favour of enhanced security; it is under constant review. This proposal did not come from any audit or oversight at Dublin Airport. In fact, the constant improvements the Minister referred to have always excluded airport police and customs officials from it because contrary to his statement they are not members of staff; they are the State airport operator's primary law enforcers. In doing their job and going between airside and landside they are being asked to divest themselves of all their protective clothing gear, stab vests, handcuffs, limb restraints and first-aid kits at a normal X-ray machine multiple times a day. It is utterly chaotic and they cannot do their work properly.
A full background check is acceptable for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces who continue to be exempt from the security clearance. Why have the airport police and customs officers not been given that choice?
What is the response? Has the DAA contacted the Minister to offer a percentage of staff on an annual basis for this type of screening? It is a bit ironic that the airport police get reviewed every three years for security check and yet gardaí and Defence Forces members are walking through on a one-off security check. It is utter nonsense to hide behind the guise of security.
The Deputy seems to be under the impression that airport police and Revenue officials are being treated differently from members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces - that they are being excluded from the security clearance that it is available. I reassure her that this is not the case. Airport police and Revenue officials are fully background checked in accordance with EU regulations. The basis of this decision is that of a risk assessment by the Irish Aviation Authority on the screening exemptions held by categories of persons in Ireland.
The details of the risk assessment cannot be discussed due to its highly sensitive nature. The process is extremely robust and has been endorsed by the National Civil Aviation Security Committee of which the Revenue Commissioners and the DAA are members.
Has there ever been a complaint about the security risk of any airport police or customs officer? The Minister is missing the point. Members of the Garda and Defence Forces do not need to strip off and divest themselves of all their work clothing in order to do their job when they go through the security and X-ray machines, which the airport police and customs staff have to do. It is making their job incredibly difficult. They were always security-compliance exempt because they are under that law enforcement category.
If a full background check is sufficient to exclude gardaí and members of the Defence Forces from having to do that, why not the airport police, customs officials and immigration officers who quite often in a time-sensitive way have to move airside and back to the other side of the airport? The DAA - Dublin Airport and Cork Airport - has passed all the security audits that have been done. The findings of one of those are due to be released later this month. From where is the threat coming? It does not add up. Can we not have a level playing field for all?
I am afraid I am obliged and inclined to accept the advice of the IAA and the NCASC on matters of security. That is the position I must take. Rather than taking the Deputy's advice, I must take theirs.