From airports to our waters... we are always caught on hop

Trevor Laffan asks why are we always getting caught on the hop?
From airports to our waters... we are always caught on hop

Russian navy ships during drills in the Black Sea. Their plan to come to Irish waters earlier this year caused a diplomatic row.

QUESTIONS were asked in the aftermath of the recent chaos in Dublin Airport, and rightly so. It was a complete mess with more than 1,000 passengers missing their flights. The excuses were fairly predictable though.

They are the standard responses we get when anything goes wrong; procedures have been put in place to prevent this happening again and the public will see an improvement in the coming weeks and months.

That covers a multitude, but when all is said and done, there seems to be very little accountability.

The management are hopeful those scenes won’t be repeated, but they can’t give any guarantees. That’s not good enough.

Somebody made a decision to get rid of a large number of essential ground workers in the airport during Covid-19. Fair enough, we were in the middle of a pandemic, nobody was travelling, and the cash reserves of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) were dwindling. They had to make cuts, but did they have to be so deep?

This hiatus was not going to last forever. Most people I know wanted an end to Covid so they could meet friends and relatives overseas. It was obvious they were going to take to the skies in vast numbers at the first available opportunity, but apparently the DAA didn’t see it coming.

They said the surge on demand wasn’t in any of the predictions and they weren’t expecting a full return to air travel for at least two years.

That’s water under the bridge now and those responsible will continue to earn very large salaries and probably collect a bonus at the end of the year for a job well done. That’s kind of how it works in this country.

A lady from the passport office was interviewed by Pat Kenny and he wanted to know why there was such a big delay in getting a passport. He also wanted to know why some people had to wait for hours to talk to someone on the phone and why passports were being returned to applicants for further attention months after receiving them. Pat couldn’t understand why they weren’t returned as soon as issues with the applications were identified.

The lady acknowledged they had been experiencing some difficulties, but they had been resolved now and the public should see an improvement in the service.

 She told Pat they were employing additional staff and they would be operational in the coming weeks.

They had a plan to speed up delays in issuing passports, including more than doubling passport office staff numbers from 60 to 140, while a new system of Garda certification had also been introduced. This was planned to commence in the following two weeks.

That’s the middle of summer in lay-man’s language, which might seem a bit late to the ordinary punter, but better late than never, I suppose.

The thing is though, we always seem to be reacting to foul-ups instead of preparing for them.

OK, so nobody died waiting for a passport or missing a flight, but there are other circumstances where our lack of preparedness could have more serious consequences. Like the defence of our country for instance.

Back in January, we learned the Russian Navy intended to conduct military exercises off the coast of Cork. These drills were due to start in early February.

The Irish Government protested, but the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yuri Filatov, said that plans by Russia to hold navy military exercises off the coast of Ireland were a “non-story” and downplayed their significance.

Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, the former chief of staff of the Irish Defence Forces, had a different opinion. He said that the naval exercise was the “opening salvo” in the Ukrainian war. He said it was provocative in nature and claimed the defence forces were not in a position to protect Irish-controlled waters.

Vice Admiral Mellett also suggested that we are probably the most vulnerable state of the 27 members in the EU, which was worrying. So, what was the plan?

Well, there didn’t seem to be one and it was left to a group of fishermen to stand up to the might of the Russian Navy. They were prepared to go to sea in their trawlers to protect their fishing grounds and marine life. They said nothing was being done to help them, so they would look after themselves.

The fishermen felt their livelihoods were at stake and the fishing grounds should not be used for Russian war games. They made a stand, and in the end, it worked out OK.

Only for them, those fishing grounds could have been contaminated for years to come if the Russians had gone ahead as planned. It was our version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Back in the 1960s, Soviet ships bound for Cuba with nuclear missiles were confronted by a line of U.S. vessels enforcing a blockade. A tense stand-off followed because a breach of the blockade could have sparked a nuclear exchange.

The Soviet ships stopped short of the blockade and the crisis was averted.

In our case, we’re ill equipped to defend ourselves.

A report from the Commission on the Defence Forces found we can’t protect ourselves from external threats by sea or air. It has recommended a major overhaul of our defence capability, which the Government will consider in the coming weeks and months. The standard response.

We’re very tolerant, which is just as well because we’re always getting caught on the hop.

We expect mediocrity from the decision-makers so it’s no surprise when we get it. We’re used to it.

It would be nice, though, if we could be ahead of the game for once, but I can’t see that happening in the immediate future. Certainly not in the coming weeks and months.

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