Three men, including two Aer Lingus employees, have been arrested in connection with alleged offences at Dublin Airport linked to an international immigrant smuggling network.
Gardaí arrested the men (aged 61 years, 56 years and 28 years) at the airport on Sunday night. The third man is a suspected illegal immigrant whose passage through the airport was being facilitated by the Aer Lingus workers, gardaí said.
The men, who were detained at Ballymun and Coolock Garda stations, are suspected of smuggling illegal immigrants in a potential breach of the Illegal Immigrants Trafficking Act and the Immigration Act, gardaí said.
Assistant commissioner John O’Driscoll from the Garda Special Crime Operations unit said “significant co-operation” was being offered from Aer Lingus as well as the Dublin Airport Authority.
Speaking to reporters at the Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region Headquarters on Harcourt Street, he said prior to the arrest someone had arrived at Dublin airport and there were indications two people were going to help this person circumvent immigration controls.
Assistant commissioner O’Driscoll said the ongoing investigation involved searches of premises as well as vehicles. It is possible that more arrests will take place in the course of the investigation.
He said gardaí are attempting to establish on how many occasions immigrants have been smuggled through Dublin airport.
“There is always the danger that employees who have the capacity to facilitate illegal immigration will do certain acts that will assist in that regard,” he said.
“It’s not the first time that State employees have been arrested by the Garda National Immigration Bureau where breaches of procedures were discovered.”
He added people from outside the EU were willing to pay significant sums of money to be brought into Ireland. “So there is always a temptation there for people to succumb to the offering of corrupt payments.”
It is understood that immigrants being brought into Ireland were taken off Aer Lingus planes and put into catering trucks.
There are no security checks for vehicles or passengers leaving airports, only passport and customs inspections for passengers and their bags, meaning vehicles could be driven out of the airside without being searched.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said “extreme vigilance” was required to prevent illegal immigration at all points of entry to Ireland.
“We have a huge amount of contact with Interpol and Europol,” she said. “I’m very confident that with the new arrangements now in place, that database information is being shared more effectively than ever.”
Immigration at Dublin Airport was recently reconfigured so civilian staff from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service now man the arrivals control booths.
Assistant commissioner O’Driscoll said this has allowed the Garda to enhance its immigration work.
“On an ongoing basis we are refusing leave to land to people detected attempting to enter the state,” he said. “Leave to land was refused to 3,300 people last year an increase of 15 per cent on previous year.”
Aer Lingus said it was “co-operating fully with an Garda Siochana in their investigation. As this is an on-going criminal investigation we have no further comment to make”.
A Dublin Airport Authority spokesman said: “Dublin Airport Authority has been in touch with the Garda National Immigration Bureau in relation to this matter and is assisting them with their inquiries.”
Chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland Brian Killoran said victim support should be central to any investigation into immigrant smuggling at Dublin airport.
He said the council’s initial reaction as an organisation is to be wary of the temptation to conflate illegal immigration with what can be very complex motivation for people to try to enter countries.