Warning: Terrorist attack danger as security screening at Dublin Airport ‘not fit for purpose’

Whistleblower makes shock claim in a protected disclosure to Green Party leaderInvestigation under way by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA)Lapse in standards of staff training after pandemic has led to “below par” security screening at the airport, whistleblower claimsWarning vulnerabilities could lead to terrorist attacks on a par with Lockerbie

Passengers faced long queues for security clearance due to staffing issues at Dublin Airport last March. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

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thumbnail: Passengers faced long queues for security clearance due to staffing issues at Dublin Airport last March. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Gabija Gataveckaite

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has been warned security screening at Dublin Airport is “not fit for purpose” and leaves risks for a possible terrorist attack.

A Dublin Airport whistleblower made the shock claim in a protected disclosure to the Green Party leader which is now the subject of an investigation by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

In the whistleblower’s protected disclosure, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, it is alleged screening at the airport is in a “critical situation” which leaves possible gaps for explosive devices to slip through and on board flights.

The disclosure was handed to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan in the Dáil chamber last June.

It says the Minister is allowing a “roll of the dice” each morning and hoping “that nothing happens”.

A lapse in standards of staff training has led to “below par” security screening at the airport, where “vulnerabilities” could be “exploited”.

It says these may even lead to terrorist attacks on a par with Lockerbie, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the UK.

The IAA has launched a formal investigation into the protected disclosure, as it has found “prima facie” evidence that “wrongdoing may have occurred”.

The whistleblower is currently in dispute with their employer over a pay review and a report arising from their accusations of bullying.

Dublin Airport witnessed chaotic scenes after the lifting of pandemic restrictions and passengers were forced to wait for hours in queues outside terminals.

DAA scrambled to recruit additional staff post-pandemic, and the disclosure claims this has dramatically reduced the standard of training for screening staff, as most of the trainers have no previous experience in the roles.

The remaining staff are under “immense pressure” to screen passengers, according to a whistleblower who has waived their right to anonymity, but does not yet wish to be named.

Airport screening staff must pass exams, and rules state only two fails are allowed, according to the disclosure.

However, the disclosure alleges this is being “ignored” by DAA.

Many staff members are put through several times, “until” they pass their exams.

Newly hired workers tasked with search duties at the airport have been “observed completing exams using Google Translate”.

Due to an insufficient number of security staff, screening staff are allegedly being utilised in other ways by being handed different coloured lanyards, which identifies what area they are trained in.

The IAA has reviewed the disclosure and has found there is “prima facie evidence that a relevant wrongdoing may have occurred”, documents seen by the Irish Independent show.

The IAA will take “appropriate action”, which will aim to “address the relevant wrongdoing” with regard to the “nature and seriousness” of the issue.

It is expected this will be by way of an investigation into this possible “wrongdoing”.

The DAA promised security queues of 30 minutes maximum in an interview with the Irish Independent last May.

However, the whistleblower claims overhearing a conversation by security supervisors, who called the promised 30 minute queue a “career suicide”.

The disclosure states this would make a “critical situation” worse as the standard of screening in Dublin Airport is “below par”.

This would “deepen the security vulnerability that DAA executives have created”.

The protected disclosure states how vulnerabilities can be “exploited” and references the example of Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

The disclosure states how the device that detonated on board Pan Am flight 103 did not originate in London, where it stopped over, or Frankfurt, where it originated.

The suitcase with explosives had come from Malta, which passed through Frankfurt and was loaded on the Pan Am flight.

This is not the first time serious concerns have been raised about explosives passing through the airport.

A report from the European Aviation Safety Agency last year found seven prohibited items passed through, including guns and explosives.

A hard copy of the protected disclosure was handed to Minister Ryan in the Dáil chamber by Labour TD Duncan Smith last June.

The Department of Transport said it does not comment on issues which relate to “aviation security operations” or protected disclosures given to the Minister.

A spokesperson said the IAA is responsible for receiving disclosures “of relevant wrongdoings on all matters relating to the management of Irish controlled airspace, the safety regulation of Irish civil aviation and the oversight of civil aviation security in the State.”

A spokesperson for the IAA said the authority “cannot disclose information relating to any protected disclosure as per the relevant legislation”.

The DAA said it is not “aware” of an investigation by the IAA into the airport in relation to a protected disclosure.

The Dublin Airport operator said that it “never comments” on security issues as aviation security “aims to prevent acts of unlawful interference, by keeping threatening items such as arms and explosives away from aircraft”.

“We never comment on the frequency, nature or findings of any audits or investigations for similar reasons to avoid sharing intelligence on such matters in any medium with those who might seek to bring about such unlawful acts.”

A spokesperson for the airport said that it is subject to “regular, independent, national and international oversight of our compliance with stringent security requirements”.

It said it would “cooperate fully” with any investigation.

“Any allegations under a protected disclosure should remain to be allegations only, until such claims are fully investigated and ultimately resolved.

“DAA will not be making any further comment on this until any such investigation has been finalised.”

The whistleblower contacted Mr Ryan’s department several months after the protected disclosure was handed to Minister Ryan in the Dáil, having not heard back.

After a back and forth, department officials then asked if they could share the disclosure with the IAA and later did so.

In 2021, an external investigator was hired to examine a complaint of bullying which was submitted by the whistleblower.

Seven incidents were investigated, however, the external investigator found only one incident could have undermined the whistleblower’s right to dignity at work.

As a result, the allegation of bullying was not upheld.

The whistleblower is currently in dispute with the DAA at the Workplace Relations Commission over the report from the external investigator and how one of the recommendations, when released, was redacted.

The whistleblower is also in dispute with his employer due to a pay review.