DAA claimed proper preparations were not made for new checks for airport workers

Dalton Philips told department that delays in new system threatened the Irish economy

The chief executive of Dublin Airport operator DAA complained to the Department of Transport early last month that the "necessary preparations" were not made for a new regime of background checks for airport staff that was delaying the hiring of new workers.

Dalton Philips warned of the threat to the economy if delays in the new system of checks in the State were not resolved with the aviation industry seeking to hire 12,000 staff ahead of the "crucial" summer period.

Mr Philips’s letter to the Department of Transport came just weeks before passengers began experiencing lengthy queues at Dublin Airport’s security checks. He has since highlighted the European Union-mandated enhanced background checks (EBCs) for staff as contributing to the “perfect storm” that caused the passenger delays.

The new vetting system – aimed at mitigating the threat of terrorism and unlawful interference in the aviation industry – was launched here in January.


The March 4th letter Mr Philips wrote to Fintan Towey, the assistant secretary for aviation at the Department of Transport, was released under Freedom of Information laws.

Mr Philips said the “scale of the recruitment and retention challenges our sector is currently facing” was a “direct consequence” of the State’s new EBC process and he asked what steps the department intended to take to address the issue.

He said the process as it stood was “the single biggest challenge facing our industry’s recovery and, if not addressed quickly and comprehensively, it stands to have material implications for the entire Irish economy during 2022”.

He said the requirements for gardaí to conduct additional checks on employees requiring unescorted access in restricted areas of an airport were flagged as early as 2018. DAA had highlighted concerns about the “robustness and progress” of the rollout plans as recently as last November and December, he added.

Mr Philips said: “Despite the lengthy regulatory notice afforded on all sides, it is now clear that the necessary preparations were not effectively made in all areas.” He said that as a consequence “our entire industry . . . is continuing to experience substantial delays with respect to the processing times for applications [for checks for workers]”.

At the time there were 1,173 applications submitted to the Garda by DAA awaiting completion of the EBC process. Of those, approximately 450 of the applications were in process for more than 30 days, and Mr Philips said that “for a number of applications” the waiting time was in excess of seven weeks in total.

‘Huge challenges’

Mr Philips said: “We fully support all efforts to protect our industry from unlawful acts of interference.” However, he said the timelines within the new system were posing “huge challenges” for the sector’s ability to recruit and train “urgently required” new employees for airports and airlines. Mr Philips called for sufficient Garda resourcing to be “put in place immediately”.

In response, Mr Towey said Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan had written to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee informing her of the difficulties and asking for engagement with the Garda "to improve turnaround times". He said he understood that additional personnel had been assigned to manage the increased level of demand. He added: "I also understand from DAA that the numbers awaiting security vetting have reduced considerably in the last seven to 10 days."

At the end of March, Mr Philips told RTÉ that the EBCs had "created a lot of challenges at the beginning of the year" but this was "somewhat easing now".

DAA is in the process of hiring 300 more security staff as it seeks to reduce passenger queues. A spokesman said the time it was taking to get through security at Dublin Airport “stabilised considerably during April”.

A Garda spokeswoman said that the average turnaround time for standard background checks for criminal convictions and pending court cases in relation to applications from DAA was approximately six to seven working days in recent months. She said it was not possible to give indicative turnaround times for EBCs “as each case is individual and depends on a range of variable factors, including on whether the applicant has resided outside the State or not”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times