THE Slovakian authorities last night apologised to the Government after a botched security exercise in Bratislava led to almost 100g of military explosive being smuggled by an unwitting passenger into Dublin airport.
The explosive -- enough to blow up a building if made up into a bomb -- was hidden in a passenger's luggage as he was leaving Bratislava airport for Dublin after a Christmas break at home.
The passenger, Stefan Gonda, a 49-year-old electrician, was one of eight airline passengers selected without their knowledge by Bratislava airport police to test security procedures there last Saturday. But although sniffer dogs found the deadly material hidden in the seven other pieces of luggage, the 96g of the RDX explosive secreted in the Dublin-bound passenger's suitcase were not detected.
After urgent contacts throughout the day between the Department of Justice in Dublin and the Slovakian Interior Ministry in Bratislava the authorities there admitted that errors had been made.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Robert Kalinak issued an apology to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern during a telephone call last night.
He also promised that the authorities in Bratislava would fully co-operate with any inquiries into the incident.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has appointed Det Chief Supt Martin McLoughlin, who is in charge of the Garda national fraud bureau, to carry out a full investigation of the background to the security incident. It is expected that Chief Supt McLoughlin and his team may travel to Bratislava as part of their inquiries.
Earlier government ministers here had made it clear they wanted to know the answers to a series of key questions:
These questions were being posed to the Slovakian authorities during the afternoon as senior Justice and Foreign Affairs officials opened up inquiries about the incident.
The Slovakian electrician has been working here for the past three years and living in the same apartment in Dorset Street in the centre of Dublin.
He has never come to the attention of the gardai and has no criminal or terrorist connections. Last night, senior garda officers said they were satisfied that the man had not been aware he was carrying explosive into the State and had no knowledge that he was part of a sniffer dog training exercise at Bratislava. The explosive was considered safe on its own and could not be turned into a bomb without other vital component parts such as a detonator.
It is estimated that 96g of RDX is equivalent in strength roughly to two grenades and would have blown up the building where the man's apartment is located as well as badly damaging nearby property if it had been turned into a bomb.
But ministers are treating the incident very seriously and, as well as seeking answers to the queries arising from the affair, they also want assurances that similar exercises will not be attempted on flights into Irish airports. The electrician arrived back from his holiday on Saturday and brought his luggage to his apartment.
He was not aware that the explosives had been hidden in the luggage until he was contacted by the Bratislav airport police on Monday and told to await the arrival of the security forces here.
Contact was eventually made with the Dublin airport police yesterday morning and they informed the gardai, who called in the assistance of an Army bomb disposal team.
Gardai evacuated five buildings in Dorset Street and Gardiner Street and sealed off the area, with traffic diversions stretching back to Drumcondra, as the Army team located the explosives and ensured they were safe. After a 65-minute operation, the RDX was taken away for forensic examination and business staff and residents were allowed back into their premises.