September 27, 2022

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Reducing flights or bringing in Army support to prevent Dublin Airport failing were viewed as “extreme measures” that would “have enormous reputational consequences” during a discussion between senior Government officials and DAA chief executive Dalton Philips.

The conversation took place at the start of June, a week after some 1,400 people missed flights due to lengthy queues at the airport at the end of May.

While a reduction in flights has not happened the Government has put the Defence Forces on standby to help with security duties at Dublin Airport if needed. Minister of State with responsibility for aviation Hildegarde Naughton told the Dáil last week the move was designed to protect passengers’ summer travel arrangements to avoid “reputational damage” to Ireland’s aviation sector.

The decision to put the Defence Forces on standby was taken at the end of June after a request from Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan on behalf of DAA.

However, a note of a conversation between Government officials and Mr Dalton on June 6th — released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act – shows that bringing in Army support was not viewed as desirable at the time. The phone call was between Mr Dalton, Ken Spratt, the secretary general of the Department of Transport, and Fintan Towey, a Government assistant secretary for aviation.

A note of the call, written up by Mr Towey, says: “The need for the Minister to have confidence that the airport would not fail over the summer was clearly understood” and “capacity-building is continuing”.

The note goes on to say: “The options of reducing flights or seeking to draw upon Army support to avoid the airport failing are now very clearly understood as extreme measures that have enormous reputational consequences for board and management.”

The note of the phone call does not specify who put forward the view that such measures would result in reputational damage, and neither DAA nor the Department of Transport addressed Irish Times questions on which side had made the remarks.

Defence Forces personnel have not so far been called upon to help with security duties at the airport.

A DAA spokesman said that measures brought in following the difficulties experienced at the airport in May were “proving effective”. The spokesman said: “Other than Covid risks we are now in a much more robust position to manage peak summer traffic.”

He said the number of security screening staff will have doubled to 920 by the end of the month, and in June 93 per cent of all passengers spent 45 minutes or less queuing at security.

The spokesman said the Defence Forces being put on standby was a “prudent contingency”. He said they would remain available to DAA for six weeks and “we will only call on them in the event of a sharp spike in Covid cases among our own security team”.

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