Friday 15 December 2017

Airport security under spotlight after alleged smuggler scam

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Arthur Carron
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Arthur Carron
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Events at Dublin airport have highlighted again the importance of effective security at our air and sea ports.

Amid the confusion and threatened chaos created by the Brexit talks, it has also emerged that vigilance will have to be increased along the Border with Northern Ireland to prevent this State being used as a regular back-door route into the new-look EU.

Last month, PSNI chief constable George Hamilton created a controversy when he alleged that international criminals were entering the UK through Ireland.

Mr Hamilton told the Northern Ireland affairs committee of the House of Commons that immigration controls in the Republic did not have the same level of resources.

The remarks were strongly rejected by Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirin O'Sullivan.

Through Operation Weld, which deals with the Common Travel Area, Irish officers have referred about 300 cases of immigration abuse to their UK counterparts since mid-2015, and half of those were arrested by UK officers.

Mrs Fitzgerald said this further demonstrated the close co-operation between the Irish and UK authorities.

It is also vital that the Garda's standing with other European police forces is not put at risk because of the failure for the past four months to fill a key overseas post permanently.

Read More: 'Tina' wanted to come to Ireland - but she was beaten and abused

The Garda authorities are trying to find experienced candidates from the force to work on a full-time basis at Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, at its headquarters at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Gardaí have been involved at Europol since it started out 20 years ago as the European drugs unit.

Two gardaí and one customs liaison officer are currently based at the agency.

One of the garda posts became vacant in August.

But a competition has not yet been set up to find a replacement.

In the meantime, the garda authorities are filling the job on a temporary basis, with officers being deployed in The Hague for three weeks and then replaced.

This is regarded by senior officers as a major blow to their efforts to improve co-operation between their representatives and colleagues from the other 27 EU countries and non-EU partner states.

"The key to this job is being able to build up a close relationship with members of other police forces and use those contacts to further joint efforts to counter terrorism and combat organised crime gangs," one officer said.

Despite the alleged scam coming to light this week, security checks at the airports have improved significantly in recent weeks.

A pilot project was introduced at Dublin Airport at the end of December, which allowed immigration officers to carry out instant checks on passports with an Interpol database tracking lost and stolen travel documents.

This was very successful in its first two weeks.

It has since been extended across the State.

It is now becoming a big part of immigration security and providing a boost to anti-terrorism efforts to track the movements of suspected jihadis.

In the first eight weeks more than 700,000 documents have been searched with a number of people refused entry to the State.

Irish Independent

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