Update 6.45pm: Health Minister Simon Harris has been targeted by unknown individuals for the second time in a month after an envelope containing white powder was sent directly to his office - forcing the Department of Health to temporarily evacuate.
Workers at the Department's offices on Baggot Street in central Dublin were forced to leave the building for three hours today amid widespread fears of a serious safety incident centering around the powder.
Shortly after 11.25am this morning, staff at the Department of Health opened an envelope containing a suspicious white powder which was addressed to Mr Harris and which was later revealed to be baking powder.
Officials immediately phoned the gardai and emergency services, who rushed at least eight fire brigade vehicles, garda units and the army bomb squad to the scene due to fears the envelope - which did not include a letter or any message - posed a serious safety risk.
Over the subsequent three hours, emergency services evacuated the building and set up a 100-metre cordon around the site, ordering pedestrians to leave the area and telling workers in nearby offices to not leave their buildings under any circumstances.
Specialist "hazardous material team units" and the army bomb squad were sent into the building in full body suits to examine the envelope and any other suspicious items,
All staff who had direct contact with the suspicious white powder had to undergo "chemical cleaning" to ensure they did not spread the risk to other individuals.
However, after a three-hour examination, emergency services confirmed at 2.30pm that the suspicious white powder was baking powder and that there was no risk to individuals.
While it is unknown who was behind the envelope, today's incident is the second time in a month Mr Harris has been targeted. Last month there was a protest outside his County Wicklow home.
Mr Harris was not present at the time the envelope addressed directly to him was discovered and he did not have direct contact with it. However, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone was holding a disability services meeting in the building at the time.
In a statement, Mr Harris thanked emergency services for their "diligence in responding to an incident at my department": "The safety of staff must always be paramount. Today was a difficult day for them all and particularly those who work so closely with me in my office."
Update 6.05pm: The Taoiseach has described people who send suspicious packages in the post as "oddballs".
An envelope containing powder was sent to Minister Simon Harris this morning, shutting down the Department of Health for the day.
It has been deemed non-hazardous and handed over to gardaí for further examination.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says people should know that post does not immediately reach the politicians directly.
"I'm not sure what sort of oddballs send suspicious packages in the post but they should be well aware that it's not the politician who's going to be opening the mail it's somebody doing a normal job," he said.
"It could be a receptionist, it could be a security guard, it could be a clerical officer or somebody working on the constituency team.
Additional reporting by Digital Desk
Update 4.19pm: The Department of Health on Baggot Street has re-opened, following the discovery of a suspicious package this morning.
An envelope containing a powder, which was sent to the Minister for Health, was inspected on site after gardaí and the Army Bomb Disposal team were called to the scene.
The package was deemed non-hazardous by technicians, and has been handed over to gardaí for further examination.
The scene was declared safe at 2.30pm.
The building was evacuated at around 11.30am and staff at the department were sent home for the day.
In a statement, the Defence Forces said: “An envelope containing a powder was inspected on site and deemed non-hazardous by technicians.
Army bomb disposal units have arrived in protective clothing to the Department of Health on Baggot Street amid an ongoing incident. pic.twitter.com/pBdulvB1EZ— aoife-grace moore. (@aoifegracemoore) March 4, 2019
“It was then handed over to An Garda Siochana for further examination.
“The scene was declared safe and the team departed at 2.30pm.
“Should members of the public encounter suspicious items, or potentially hazardous substances, they are advised to maintain a safe distance and inform the gardaí.”
A statement from Dublin Fire Brigade had confirmed there was no danger to the public, and appealed for people to respect the emergency cordons that were in place.
The incident on Baggot Street is of a HazMat nature. All resources are in place to resolve the incident. There is no danger to the public. Baggot Street Lower is still closed, and we ask the public to respect the emergency cordons. @aaroadwatch @DCCTraffic pic.twitter.com/ZpaPqHmkdZ— Dublin Fire Brigade (@DubFireBrigade) March 4, 2019
At least five fire engines went to the scene, along with ambulance staff and a number of gardaí support vehicles.
When asked about the incident on Monday afternoon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that gardaí and Defence Forces had all appropriate equipment and skills to deal with the incident.
Traffic across the busy Dublin city centre area suffered major disruption due to the incident, as a considerable length of Baggot Street was closed off and public transport diverted.
Additional reporting by Digital Desk and Press Association
Update 12.08pm: The Department of Health's offices in Dublin city centre have been temporarily evacuated after an envelope containing unknown white powder was sent to the building.
The site was closed off by gardai and surrounded by at least eight fire brigade vehicles at midday on Monday after the item was identified.
One of the fire brigade crews also brought with it a large container labelled "hazmat support unit" items, which relates to the special hazardous material equipment needed to address potentially threatening materials.
The Department of Health's offices have been temporarily evacuated after a suspicious package was sent to the Dublin city. Video by Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
The Department of Health's offices have been temporarily evacuated after a suspicious package was sent to the Dublin city location. #iestaff— Fiachra Ó Cionnaith (@Ocionnaith) March 4, 2019
We are on scene at an incident in a premises on Baggot Street Lower. To help us deal with the incident the road has been closed. Expect traffic delays and disruption in the area. @aaroadwatch @DCCTraffic pic.twitter.com/J42CWRHTkF— Dublin Fire Brigade (@DubFireBrigade) March 4, 2019
The Irish Examiner understands the envelope was found at the same time as a meeting was due to take place in the Department's offices.
A call was then made to Dublin fire brigade and the gardai, who sealed off and evacuated the site.
It is currently unknown what material is involved and no motive for the package has been revealed.
However, the Department and Health Minister Simon Harris have been at the centre of a series of stand offs in recent months over the abortion referendum, children's hospital, protests at ministerial homes and other matters.