Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

5:00 pm

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)

I understand Senator Keaveney's desire for clarity and a single worldwide policy but I am not sure my reply will help in that respect.

In August 2006 the UK authorities raised the levels of security at UK airports following intelligence reports suggesting an imminent terrorist attack involving the use of liquid explosives to blow up aircraft. Subsequently the European Commission held a number of meetings to examine options for additional aviation security measures to deter such a threat and concluded that it was necessary to restrict the carriage of liquids and gels. The EU adopted security rules for passengers and their hand luggage, which came into force in November 2006 at all airports in the European Union. The rules restrict the amount of liquids and gels that passengers can take through security screening checkpoints. They apply to all passengers departing from airports in the EU whatever their destination.

Only very small quantities of liquids and gels may be brought through passenger screening points at EU airports. Exemptions exist for larger quantities in respect of medicines, special diet products and baby foods if essential for use during the trip. These rules mean that at security screening checkpoints, passengers and their hand luggage must be checked for liquids and gels in addition to existing prohibited articles.

Exemptions may be granted for passengers if the liquids are obtained at another community airport on condition that the liquid is packed in a bag that is both tamper evident and displays satisfactory proof of purchase at airside at that airport on that day. This exemption permits a passenger to take duty-free liquids bought after the screening point and carry as hand luggage on an additional flight, including a return trip, provided the items are still in the sealed bags, untouched, together with proof of purchase; the additional journey is still the same day; and a screener is satisfied that the purchase was made airside at another EU airport.

A review of the application of the regulation showed that the restrictions on liquids carried by passengers arriving on flights from countries outside the EU and transferring at EU airports created certain operational difficulties at these airports and caused inconvenience to the passengers concerned. To address these concerns, discussions have taken place between the EU and other countries to provide for similar exemptions for liquids in tamper evident bags purchased in non-EU airports.

To date, exemptions have been made for Singapore Airport and airports in Croatia following agreements reached with those countries and confirmation that similar security standards applied at their airports. This allows a person travelling from Singapore to purchase duty-free at that airport and transfer at Heathrow for a flight to Dublin without the liquid being confiscated at the screening point in Heathrow. An agreement between the US and the EC, which would provide for a similar exemption for flights between EU and US airports, is expected to be agreed before the end of the year. Discussions are ongoing with other third countries for the application of similar exemptions.

The threat from liquid explosives and, in particular, the current limitations on the ability to detect them has been recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. The European Commission and member states are working hard with ICAO and its contracting states to find solutions so as to enable liquids to be carried freely again. In this context, Ireland has always supported a proportionate response to the threat of liquid explosives and will continue to do so in discussions at international fora.

The restrictions on the carriage of liquids will continue as long as this threat exists and until the necessary technology is put in place to detect explosives in liquids. Discussions are ongoing at EU level and with industry to develop technological solutions to this problem, and this would involve the installation of new screening technology at all airports to scan liquids. While this is likely to take some time, Ireland will continue to support the objective of removing constraints on passengers taking liquids on board aircraft.

I can only seek extra clarification in regard to the particular journeys spoken about by the Senator. I thank Senator Keaveney for raising the matter.


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