THE National Roads Authority (NRA) had concerns about Dublin Port Tunnel's safety systems from when it opened 14 months ago, it emerged yesterday.
Concerns were raised after it opened in January last year that the system was not reliable, with informed sources saying they were "taken aback" by the way the tunnel was being operated.
And it has emerged that the NRA has taken a more "hands-on" approach to the tunnel's operations and now have a presence in its operations centre.
Key safety systems have failed four times in the last three months alone, leading to a complete closure of the €751m tunnel.
A five-day safety inspection on the tunnel's operations was carried out last weekend because the EU requires that tunnels are inspected after one year of opening.
One source told the Irish Independent that there were problems with the Scada safety system, which controls the detection of vehicles, fire suppression mechanisms, CCTV and emergency lighting, but the NRA was working "in partnership" with the tunnel's operators, Transroute, to rectify matters.
"New tunnels have a year breaking-in period, and we're 14 months open. It (the mandatory inspection) lended itself to us finding out how it was being run," they said.
"We were taken aback by how it was being operated. We had oversight and looked in from time to time but are now taking a more hands-on approach in the light of safety concerns.
"There were problems from day one which were out of the norm. Improvements must be made on maintenance and operations. We're not confident about the reliability of the system in place."
Unless matters improve, Transroute face the possibility of sanctions for failing to operate the tunnel as outlined in its agreement with the NRA. Standard clauses in operation contracts can impose penalties against operators who fail to run the system as specified in the contract.
The tunnel is under warranty for 12 years, and for the first two years the builders are required to pay for any faults or failures. For 10 years after that, they must pay contractors employed by the NRA to carry out work on the faulty system.
Last night, an NRA spokesman said the authority could not guarantee the tunnel wouldn't close again, but there was no safety risk to motorists.
However, Labour's Tommy Broughan called for Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to "clarify" matters surrounding the tunnel's safety.
The call came after RTE's 'Prime Time' programme claimed there had been breaches of the tunnel's safety manual, with blockages to fire exits and non-functioning fans.
"This morning, the NRA refuted a number of these allegations and insisted the Port Tunnel operates in a safe manner. Motorists areconcerned about who to believe and need to be urgently reassured that safety is not in any way compromised in the operation of the Port Tunnel," Mr Broughan said.
Meanwhile, RTE has stood over its 'Prime Time' programme on the tunnel's safety, saying its facts were correct.
It said the Scada system failed on February 21 last year, which the safety manual said should have resulted in the tunnel's "immediate closure".