People-smuggling reveals the flaws in Irish and international airport security

Background: Passengers who bypass immigration are not classified as security breaches

Dublin Airport. The UK has multiple bodies to police illegal migrant flow, but Ireland has only the Garda Síochána.

Dublin Airport. The UK has multiple bodies to police illegal migrant flow, but Ireland has only the Garda Síochána.


Incidents of people being smuggled into Ireland through airports are not technically classified as breaches of onsite security.

Revelations of a number of arrests at Dublin Airport following the detection of such an operation allegedly involving airline staff are more an issue of bypassing immigration controls.

A source explained that those travelling on incoming aircraft pass through security at the point of origin and, however staff managed to spirit them through the airport building, they sidestepped passport and visa checks designed to catch illegal immigrants.

The vast majority of international airports have no security checks for incoming passengers.

Airline and airport workers are granted airside security passes only where their roles require them to move between the two areas, which are subject to Garda vetting.

Under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) protocols, it is technically the responsibility of the airline to ensure passengers reach immigration.

However, while this particular issue may not be a specific breach of airport security, there are concerns about how people are able to slip through the wider net.

‘Europe’s weakest link’

Gardaí are attempting to establish how many immigrants may have been smuggled through Dublin Airport.

“Ireland, through no fault of the guards, would be Europe’s weakest link. We don’t know who is here,” said security analyst Tom Clonan, who added that with so many migrants on the move today, issues of people-smuggling were not surprising.

By comparison, he said, the UK has multiple bodies equipped to police illegal migrant flow, including M15, regular and transport police and a border force.

“You have all of these different agencies and assets and resources. In Ireland, all we have is An Garda Síochána and they have been hollowed out through austerity measures. The guards are expected to do everything.”

On a national level, the scale of people-smuggling into Ireland is impossible to quantify and must be separated from myriad forms of illegal immigration and undocumented residents.

The Department of Justice said it was not possible to be accurate about the number and source of illegal immigrants in any jurisdiction and any attempt to do so would be “conjecture”.

“Ireland is no different in this regard as, by its very nature, illegal immigration is clandestine and covert,” a spokesman said.

This year Ireland will begin screening an advance passenger information system for non-European Economic Area flights. Authorities here work closely with the UK managing the security of the Common Travel Area.

“The gathering and sharing of relevant information is an important aspect of this co-operation and there are robust and constantly evolving immigration security information-sharing arrangements in place between Ireland and the UK,” the spokesman said.


The extent and nature of illegal immigration and smuggling remains vastly complex.

“Nobody really knows what the scale of it is because by its very nature it’s covert,” said Catherine Cosgrave, head of legal services at the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

“I think facilitating illegal entry into the State is really difficult to comment on.”

Ms Cosgrave said NGOs and service providers for undocumented workers find the vast majority of people with whom they interact entered the country legitimately only to later become undocumented, typically when their visas expire. Again, this strand is impossible to quantify.

Actual smuggled people who want to disappear into the country are “very rare”, she added. Smuggling operations were usually designed for those who wanted to apply for asylum.

“You wouldn’t come across a huge number of people who would arrange for themselves to get smuggled in because they are coming for work they don’t have permission for.

“It may be that there is some of that . . . but it would be very difficult to quantify the extent to which that is happening, because when there is an intention to bypass the law, it is by its very nature a covert operation.”