Soldiers exposed to drug waste while guarding Phoenix Park during Papal visit

Soldiers exposed to drug waste while guarding Phoenix Park during Papal visit
A photo of the conditions which the defence forces were subjected to during the visit of Pope Francis.

By Sean O’Riordan, Defence Correspondent

An association representing enlisted soldiers in the army has expressed its concern that troops were exposed to disused hypodermic needles while they were safeguarding Pope Francis at the Phoenix Park.

PDForra is writing to military authorities to ask why soldiers were left exposed to drugs waste on parkland where they were expected to rest on mats after images were posted on the Facebook page of lobby group Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF).

PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan said his association was “appalled by the images”.

While we appreciate that our members often have to carry out robust duties, the exposure to used hypodermic needles and the possibility of catching a disease or infection gives rise to serious concern,” Mr Guinan said.

Around 150 troops were sleeping on mats in the area where the needles were found last Saturday.

It is believed the area was supposed to be cleaned in advance of their arrival. They were called in to secure the perimeter areas in advance of security sweeps by specialist units such as the army’s bomb disposal squad.

A number of tents were available as rest areas throughout the operation, and troops also set up their own rest areas by bivouacking in their specific areas of responsibility in order to rest between patrols.

This is standard practice and some of the patrolled areas were unfortunately left in unsanitary conditions prior to the operation and were treated with due caution,” a spokesman for the Defence Forces said.

Since last Friday, over 3,000 Defence Forces personnel were deployed in support of An Garda Síochana in securing the Phoenix Park, Ireland West Airport and the Marian Shrine in Knock for the duration of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland.

The furore about the hypodermic needles comes on top of criticism of how members of the Defence Forces were treated compared to gardaí. WPDF has been vocal of the disparity over what Defence Forces members were paid, compared to gardaí, during the papal visit.

Gardaí received €30 an hour overtime while soldiers were paid €68 extra, after tax, for three days’ work.

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