Members of the Defence Forces are to begin training so they can stand in for security personnel at Dublin Airport in the event of a Covid-19 surge.
The risk of a case surge among its staff has prompted the daa to request the Government to put in place contingency planning that would allow for the short-term deployment of the Defence Forces to assist with operations at Dublin airport should it be required,” the Department of Transport said in a statement.
The Government has supported a request from Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton for members of the Defence Forces to being training which will allow them to assist the daa with the aviation security duties at Dublin Airport.
The DAA has advised that its current operational plan, which has been in place since the beginning of June, is “working effectively” and people are “making their way through the airport safely and making their flights”.
However, given the impact that a resurgence of Covid-19 could have on its staff and operations, the DAA proposed a contingency to be made to facilitate the potential deployment of the Defence Forces to the airport.
On foot of the emergency request, Ministers Ryan and Naughton asked Government to take the necessary measures, including the appropriate training and certification of the Defence Forces, to facilitate their possible deployment – should it ultimately be required over the peak summer period.
Minister Ryan said it is a “contingency measure only” and the deployment of the Defence Forces may not be necessary.
“I expect that the DAA will continue to manage through the summer period with passengers who heed the relevant advice making their flights and the majority of passengers passing through security in less than 45 minutes,” he said.
“As this is a contingency measure, the Defence Forces will only be deployed, if requested by the daa, and in a scenario where there is a significant deterioration in passenger queuing times with a risk of large numbers of passengers missing their flights.”
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said:
“I have agreed to this request on a clear assurance that this is a distinct piece of work, provided in extreme circumstances, as a short-term emergency related contingency action and is in direct response to a letter from DAA management to the Minister for Transport.
“The request is clearly defined in terms of the role and timeline, lasting no more than six weeks, in non-public facing duties. Over the last number of days, I consulted with the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy on this request.
“Members of our Defence Forces will undergo an immediate period of training and stand ready to assist if the need arises. However, this support will be stood down in August when the busy holiday period has passed.
“The DAA have given assurances that they will continue with their own recruitment and onboarding of additional security staff and the introduction of other mitigations during this period,” he added.
Meanwhile, Minister Naughton said despite the ongoing recruitment at Dublin Airport, “it would be remiss of Government not to provide for an additional layer of protection for people to travel safely through Dublin Airport in the weeks ahead”.
“The decision by Government to allow for the deployment of the Defence Forces in extreme circumstances is unprecedented, and it is my hope that it is one that we will not have to be utilised. I will continue to engage with the Chief Executive of daa, Dalton Philips, his senior executive team and the Chair of the Board, throughout the remainder of the summer to ensure that the travelling public will make their holidays, family reunions and business engagements,” she added.
The Department of Transport confirmed that the contingency measure will be in place until August, at which point the daa has advised that they will have optimal levels of security staff recruited, trained and deployed.
This week DAA spokesperson Graham McQueen said everything ran “fairly smoothly” at the airport over the weekend, which was the busiest weekend since before the pandemic.
Mr McQueen said recruitment is continuing and the authority is “on track” to hire an additional 900 security personnel by the end of June. Speaking on RTÉ radio he said a further 100 security employees will be recruited in July to meet the growing demand.
The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) has raised concerns about today’s announcement and in particular over what compensation its members will receive for the airport work.
“Once again the Defence Forces are turned to in the country’s time of need, and will undoubtedly step up as the State’s insurance policy. We are concerned however that this is another example of the Defence Forces being used as emergency cover to compensate for management decisions in other state bodies,” RACO said in a statement.
“We need clarity on the type of roles our members will be expected to perform, what their working conditions will be, and what compensation they will be receiving for their work. We must not ignore the recommendation of the Commission of the Defence Forces to end the ‘free labour aspect of military service’, which would be a further blow to morale in the organisation.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said he anticipates that army personnel could be tasked to areas outside the main airport terminals, in order to free up existing Daa employees.
“It’s the period from the 6th of July to the 15th of August where we think we might need standby… They will be trained and got ready at the present time and if needed, particularly in the likes of the security entry points, not the public area but the other vehicle entry points on the perimeter of the airport… and it’s to man and apply security in those sort of locations, the army we think could have a role,” he said.
“That could free up about 100 of the airport’s own security staff, who in the event of a difficult period could then be working in the main centre.”
However, regarding RACO’s concerns over what compensation the Army personnel will receive for the work, Minister Ryan said that’s a matter for the Defence Minister Simon Coveney. He added that Daa will reimburse the exchequer in the event that the Defence Forces are drafted in.