Monday 20 May 2019

Special anti-drone technology to be used during Pope's visit to ensure Pontiff isn’t attacked from the air

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Robin Schiller, Ken Foy and Ralph Riegel

ANTI-DRONE technology is being deployed in the capital for the Pope’s visit, can reveal.

Security officials want to make sure the Pontiff isn’t attacked from the air, in the wake of a drone-led assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro earlier this month.

The Pope will attend major open-air ceremonies in Croke Park on Saturday as well as Knock and the Phoenix Park on Sunday.

Senior garda officers said there was no perceived terrorist threat to the Pope’s visit.

However, they are conscious of a spate of terror attacks in the Middle East and North Africa in which commercial drones were used.


The most high-profile incident happened in South America on August 4, when a commercial drone packed with explosives was used in a failed attempt on the life of the Venezuelan president.

Footage of the drone explosion during a military parade in Caracas made world headlines.

Drone (stock image)
Drone (stock image)

However, gardai are more concerned about public security issues if drones are used illegally over crowded areas.

Concern has been particularly focused on the possibility of an out-of-control drone plummeting into a packed congregation.

Furthermore, the organisers of events surrounding Francis’ visit do not want special ceremonies disrupted by low-flying drones being used to take photographs or video footage.

Strict no-fly zones will be in operation around both Croke Park and the Phoenix Park.

To enforce this rule, special technology will be deployed which allows rogue drones to be disabled and captured.

Such technology was first used in Ireland in April 2017 when golfer Rory McIlroy hired the firm Drone Defence to ensure aerial security over Cong Castle for his wedding reception.

Anti-drone defence technology allows for rogue drones to be immediately identified when they enter forbidden airspace.

Advanced computer and radio frequency scanning systems then allow the drone to be remotely taken over by security personnel and safely landed.

If that fails to halt the drone, special systems are then deployed, with a security drone dropping netting over the rogue drone to ground it.

Rogue drones have already proven to be a problem in Ireland, with Cork Airport having to temporarily halt flights last year when a small commercial drone flew over parts of the site.

In 2017, a total of 95 complaints were lodged with gardai over drone use.

Meanwhile, a top-secret medical plan is in place for the Pope in case he suffers serious injury or health difficulties. can reveal that a special bed in the intensive care unit of a Dublin hospital has been made available should it be required by the Pontiff.

Bags of blood matching Francis’s type have been brought in, for the unlikely event that he suffers some type of serious injury.

While some 750 doctors will operate a field hospital in the Phoenix Park for the event, fears emerged yesterday that it “is not adequately staffed”.

The HSE confirmed medical planning for the visit had been ongoing for some time, including a response if the Pontiff is injured.

“Medical services planning for the visit of his holiness Pope Francis started earlier this year,” a HSE spokeswoman said.

“This planning is ongoing and includes a medical plan for Pope Francis in the event that he should require any medical services during his visit.”


Similar contingency plans have previously been made for visits by other dignitaries, including President Obama and Queen Elizabeth.

A giant altar at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
A giant altar at the RDS in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“Medical plans have to be made, however unlikely the possibility of an injury,” a source said.

“Circumstances such as slips, trips and falls, among other things, have to be considered.

“It is highly unlikely that the Pope will require any hospital treatment, but a bed has been made available in a Dublin hospital ICU should it be required.”

It is understood that an ICU bed at the Mater Hospital will be put on standby, but the HSE would not confirm if units at other hospitals would be required for the Pope.

It previously emerged that all hospitals in Dublin were actively discharging patients to free up beds ahead of the Pope’s visit.


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