By David Raleigh
Shannon Airport is a soft touch for terrorists, according to claims by a Limerick councillor who used to work at the airport x-raying passengers' luggage.
Concerns raised by Councillor Paul Keller come less than two weeks after the head of the Clare Garda Division, Chief Superintendent John Kerin, admitted he does not have enough resources to fully protect the Clare airport.
Cllr Keller, who attended a meeting of the Limerick City and County Council's Joint Policing Committee where gardaí briefed members about the local terror threat level, claimed there was a complete lack of security along the main airport approach road, as well as around the airport’s entrance.
“I would be concerned of something happening at Shannon Airport. From a security point of view, you can walk in the door and you can carry whatever you like,” he claimed.
“There's no obstruction and no security check on anybody walking in the door.”
He also said he feared the airport’s use by US troops as a stopover could potentially be used as an excuse by terrorists to unleash an attack.
The Solidarity councillor acknowledged however that, security in other parts of the airport, including the luggage scanning system, was “of the best in Europe” and "would not be breached".
In a call for x-ray facilities at the entrance of Shannon Airport, and at the front of all Irish airports, he said: “It will (create delays), but would you rather be delayed or be dead? I think I'd rather be delayed.”
Retired detective Sean Lynch, who was elected Mayor of the Metropolitan District of Limerick tonight, called for a specific "homeland security" unit to be set up by the Government.
"I know people will say (I'm exaggerating) but it's true. This is the level we need."
"In fairness to An Garda Siochana, they dealt with domestic (republican and loyalist) terrorism for years, and they were good at it; but this is something different."
"We can't not take it seriously."
Cllr Frankie Daly, Labour, put forward a motion at the JPC meeting, asking Limerick garda management if the city was safe from terror attacks.
“We have to be proactive, terrorism is real. The reality is Limerick is the third biggest city in Ireland and we are right beside Shannon Airport, and the world is a dangerous place to be right now,” Mr Daly said, speaking afterwards.
“We don't know where these terrorists will strike next. It's common knowledge US troops are using Shannon and I think that, as a public representative, it would be a disservice not to correlate the two.”
“I think, potentially, everyone is a target and anywhere can be hit,” he said.
“I don't care if it's a one in a million chance. I don't want to have to take that chance.”
Fianna Fáil TD and justice spokesman, Niall Collins, who attended the meeting, said the mid-west region has “a growing diverse population”.
He added, while he was “reassured” by gardaí that the local threat level was low, he acknowledged, “to think that we are exempt from the likelihood of any terrorist attack or related incident, isn't the case.”
“We are obviously exposed the same as very other city and it's a challenge for us," said Deputy Collins.
A spokesperson said: "Shannon Airport does not comment on security matters."
Limerick Chief Superintendent David Sheahan, who briefed the JPC meeting, said he had "no intelligence whatsoever" of an imminent attack or an attack locally.
He said local armed gardaí “are probably in a greater state of of awareness” than other regions “because we have had to deal with a lot of serious crime over the last couple of years”, as well as "the advent of the regional (armed) response unit that is currently attached to Limerick".
The senior garda said he had available to him "a bigger cadre or disproportionate number of people trained in the use of firearms within the Division, as a result of what we have had to deal with”.
Chief Supt Sheahan said local “ethnic liaison officers” are continuously liaising with "minority groupings”.
“Some of our community gardaí are dealing with (the Muslim community) on a near daily basis to alleviate their fears, but also to ensure that they can integrate into our society”.
Clare Chief Superintendent John Kerin was not available for comment.
However, addressing a Clare County Council JPC meeting on June 13 last, he said, while there was a “24/7 armed (garda) presence” at Shannon airport, there were not have enough resources to fully protect it.
“We also have a lot of resources tied up in protecting military aircraft and VIPs coming through the airport. I wish we didn’t have but we are obliged to,” he told the meeting.
“There is a 9km fence around that airport and there is no way we can stop people coming over. We would need 1,000 officers to do that,” he added.