Monday 23 October 2017

Thousands face airport-style security for Obama speech

Fionnan Sheahan, Tom Brady and  Fiach Kelly

THOUSANDS of people hoping to attend US President Barack Obama's historic address to the nation will have to endure airport-style body scans.

With just 10 days to go to Mr Obama's visit, Irish and US security chiefs face a race against time to organise the event on Monday week.

Security for the visit of Mr Obama and Queen Elizabeth is expected to cost the taxpayer up to €30m, making it the biggest such operation in the history of the State.

The president's staff is expected to finally make a decision on the venue for the speech this weekend.

Trinity College, Dublin's front square has joined the list of possible venues for the concert, culminating in an address by the president.

O'Connell Street, Croke Park and the Royal Hospital Kilmainham are also on the shortlist.

Key public relations and security considerations still have to be decided upon.

Mr Obama's officials want a venue that looks impressive and is distinctly Irish, but the US Secret Service is insisting on strict security.

Regardless of the chosen location, the thousands of people attending will face hours of queues. Just 300 people can be put through a scanner in one hour.

A 45-strong advance team from Mr Obama's staff yesterday attended a meeting in Government Buildings with officials from the Department of An Taoiseach, an Garda Siochana and Dublin City Council.

But no final decision was taken on the holding of the event.


"The big issue is how to secure it. The Americans want to put everybody through security scanners. I don't think they realise everybody in the country will want to go to it," a garda source said.

Once the venue is chosen, concert promoters MCD, who have been hired by the Government to organise the event, will determine how many people can safely attend.

Depending on the location, anything up to 30,000 people will be present.

Access to the event will be an all-ticket affair and the tickets will be allocated via the internet.

The O'Connell Street options include placing a stage in front of the Daniel O'Connell monument with the crowd on the bridge, D'Olier Street and Westmoreland Street.

However, this choice would mean closing down the Liffey quays for two days, which are a main artery for the city.

The alternative is to put the stage outside the GPO with the crowd heading back up towards Parnell Square.

Whichever end of the street was chosen would be entirely cordoned off.

The airport style scanners will be mainly supplied by the US government to back up existing equipment here.

The decision to use the walk-through machines was taken following a meeting between the Secret Service and senior garda officers on Thursday.

It follows huge concerns about the security risks involved in staging an outdoor event featuring Mr Obama.

Another security headache will be provided by the President's visit to Moneygall, Co Offaly. Mr Obama is expected to be on the ground there for no longer than an hour but the operation will involve thousands of gardai sealing off the village.

Bruce Arnold

Irish Independent

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