Check against delivery
Topical Issue Debate
24 January 2017
The need to address concerns regarding alleged people smuggling at Dublin airport
Jim O’Callaghan TD Joan Burton TD
Response by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD
As Tánaiste and Minister for Justice & Equality, maintaining the security of our borders is always an absolute priority.
I would like to assure the House that this matter is being taken very seriously by the Government and I thank the Deputies for providing me with the opportunity to update the House.
While security at our airports and ports is always kept under review and rated very well by international standards, a breach of this nature is clearly unacceptable and in this instance is of very serious public concern.
As the Deputies will be aware, there is an ongoing Garda investigation targeted at illegal immigration and people smuggling through Dublin Airport and a number of people are before the courts in relation to this matter. It would not be appropriate in those circumstances to comment in detail on the particular case. However, I do wish to commend An Garda Síochána and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) for their work. I note that An Garda Síochána consider this to be a smuggling operation rather than being terrorism or human trafficking related. But the situation remains very serious.
My Department has kept in close contact with the Department of Transport and both Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority are cooperating fully with An Garda Síochána in this investigation. The National Civil Aviation Security Committee, chaired by the Department of Transport and comprising representatives from other Departments, An Garda Síochána, airports and airlines, reviews and recommends effective security measures with a view to advising Government on aviation security policy. The National Civil Aviation Security Committee is reviewing all relevant issues in relation to aviation security at Dublin airport, in particular any issue relating to the access arrangements at the airport.
We need to know how this happened and why. Therefore, in light of the seriousness of the situation, I will work with my colleague Minister Ross to review the procedures in place so that the public can have full confidence in the security of our borders.
Immigration Officers at Dublin Airport process around 15 million passengers per annum and around 3,300 were refused leave to land last year with over 4,000 being refused across all ports of entry. Constant vigilance is required and it is by such vigilance that a case like this is uncovered and investigated.
It is clear that this case has an international dimension to it and Gardaí are cooperating with other police authorities, INTERPOL and EUROPOL in relation to the investigation. An Garda Síochána, and indeed other independent analysts, have pointed out that this is not a matter unique to Dublin airport and that other international airports face the same risks and challenges and threats of illegal immigration.
When it comes to border security we must remain vigilant at all times and where breaches are discovered they must be thoroughly investigated and feed into a wider review of port security generally to identify where any improvements can be made. Significant resources are put into policing our borders including increased use of technology and in the area of data sharing with other jurisdictions.
Last November we took a major step forward in launching an automated connection to INTERPOL’s Lost and Stolen Travel Documents Database. In the first 8 weeks of operating systematic checks against this Database over 700,000 documents were searched, with a number of people having been refused entry to Ireland on the basis of an alert on the system having been triggered.
There is a particularly close operational relationship with the UK authorities in managing the security of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. The gathering and sharing of relevant information is an important aspect of this co-operation and there are robust and constantly evolving immigration security information-sharing arrangements in place between Ireland and the UK. For example, Ireland introduced new regulations last year to enable the UK to collect advance passenger information from Irish carriers for passengers entering the UK from Ireland.
In the first half of this year we will begin to process Advance Passenger Information on flights into the State from outside the EU and preparations are also underway to implement the EU Directive on Passenger Name Records. These systems will provide further protection for our borders against crime, terrorism and illegal immigration threats.
In addition, the Government is committed to providing An Garda Síochána with the necessary resources to enhance their connectivity to a range of EU and other international resources and significant work is ongoing in this regard. This includes connecting to the Schengen Information System and, indeed, to other EU and Interpol information-sharing resources relevant to countering the terrorist threat.
A series of measures is currently being rolled out at EU-level to build on the current EU framework for information-sharing and combating terrorism, and Ireland is fully engaged in pursuing these developments.
We have robust checks in place to prevent illegal immigration and keep under constant review our needs in terms of border protection. However, to protect the integrity of our borders requires constant vigilance on behalf of all the appropriate authorities.
While of course recent developments are a cause for concern, equally the determined action of the authorities in dealing with this matter shows that Ireland will take all necessary action to tackle effectively abuses in this area.