Flyers face long delays at Dublin Airport as e-gates clock out at 5pm
Passengers arriving at Dublin Airport's passport control outside of business hours face long queues because the civil servants who run the new "self-service" border screening programme only work on weekdays from 9am to 5pm.
The automated border control gates or "e-gates" were introduced with much fanfare at Terminal One in May 2013 by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter in order to expedite the passport screening of Irish, EU, EEA and Swiss passport holders and eventually transfer duties from gardai to civilians.
Instead of having to queue in order to present their passports to immigration officials or members of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), European nationals can now electronically scan their passport as part of a pilot project to introduce "self-service" border control technology.
Several European airports, including London's Heathrow, use similar machines.
But the system has drawn the ire of passengers and airlines in Dublin because the civil servants working for the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), which oversees the new system, do not work early mornings, nights or weekends despite millions of passengers passing through the terminal outside of so-called "business hours".
There have been no exceptions even at the height of holiday season.
Dublin Airport Authority spokeswoman Siobhan O'Donnell said the DAA has had a flurry of complaints from passengers who are frustrated about the lengthy queues at passport control because the e-gates are closed.
"The only complaint we get is they're only open from 9-5pm," she told the Irish Independent.
Ryanair, which has the largest number of passengers using the passport control areas where the e-gates are used, called the situation "ridiculous".
Airline spokesman Robin Kiely said many of the 25,000 Ryanair passengers arriving and departing Dublin Airport each day arrive on early-morning, evening and weekend flights when the e-gates are closed.
"It's unfair that customers are being delayed at passport control by what is effectively red tape. These delays paint a particularly negative picture for tourists, given it's the first thing they experience upon arrival into Ireland," he said.
Having to queue in order to be processed by GNIB staff is forcing some passengers to wait half an hour or longer, which "is just annoying, especially at this time of year when it's high season", he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which runs the INIS, said the department "has made a case to the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform for additional staff to operate the gates around the clock".
But for the foreseeable future, INIS staff are only being rostered to work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, he said.
"The trial operates during the hours of civilian officer operations, which is during business hours, 9am-5pm," he said.
The spokesperson added that it is hoped operating hours "will be extended significantly" in the future.