‘Non-hazardous’ material in suspect package sent to Department of Health
Taoiseach asks ‘what kind of oddballs’ send such material, which is ultimately opened by civilian staff
The Department of Health’s offices on Baggot Street in Dublin city centre have reopened after being evacuated earlier on Monday.
Sources said the building was cleared out after a suspicious package containing white powder was sent to Minister for Health Simon Harris.
The contents were later deemed by the Army to be “non-hazardous” and have been handed over to gardaí for further examination.
The envelope was sent to the Miesien Plaza Building on Baggot Street Lower, the old Bank of Ireland HQ which houses the Department of Health and the Department of Children. The Department of Finance also has staff in the building.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar condemned those responsible for the incident.
“I’m not sure what kind of oddballs send suspicious packages in the post but they should be well aware that it is not politicians opening the mail, it’s people doing a normal job, a receptionist or a security guard or clerical officer or someone in the constituency team,” he said “If you want to come after us, come after us, but don’t come after our staff or our families.”
Mr Harris was said to be working in his office in the department at the time, and the entire building was evacuated as a precaution. Mr Harris then left the area for an engagment in Fingal.
Thank you to the emergency services for their diligence today 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— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) 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
Breaking: Minister for Health Simon Harris has been evacuated from his department following receipt of suspicious package. @IrishTimes— Fiach Kelly (@fiachkelly) March 4, 2019
Gardaí, the Army bomb disposal unit and the hazardous materials support unit from Dublin Fire Brigade were at the scene. Also at the scene were six units of the Dublin Fire Brigade and ambulance as well as four support vehicles.
At least two members of the hazardous materials unit entered the building in full protective gear while sections of the building close to the steps at the entrance were cordoned off by firefighters.
Shortly afterwards, the fire fighters in the biohazard gear came out of the building and were sprayed with disinfectant on the front steps as firefighters began moving the public further away from the scene.
An entire block of Baggot Street stretching from the canal towards St Stephen’s Green was closed off.
In a statement, the Army said it received a request from gardaí to investigate a “suspect substance” at the premises, arriving at 12.20pm.
“An envelope containing a powder was inspected on site and deemed non-hazardous by technicians. It was then handed over to An Garda Síochána for further examination. The scene was declared safe and the team departed at 2.30pm,” it said.
“Should members of the public encounter suspicious items, or potentially hazardous substances, they are advised to maintain a safe distance and inform An Garda Síochána.”
Gardaí told people working in adjacent buildings to either go home if they were outside the workplace already or to stay indoors if they are still there.
People attempting to get to work or to homes within the cordon were told by the Garda that there is no access.
“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,” Dublin Fire Brigade said.
One civil servant working in the department told The Irish Times that “at around 11.15am the alarm went off and we were told to evacuate the building”.
“We just assumed it was a drill so we all filed out. Then we were told that a dodgy package had been sent to the Minister and they said not to come back to the office until 2pm,” he said.
Shortly before 2.20pm the emergency services started to leave the scene and the tape condoning off the area around the building on Baggot Street was removed. The Army said its members had departed by 2.30pm.