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Leinster House security to be reviewed after deadly violence in Washington

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Armed military police guard Government Buildings

Armed military police guard Government Buildings

Armed military police guard Government Buildings

Dail and Senate security is to be urgently reviewed foll- owing the storming of the US Capitol which forced lawmakers to evacuate the building.

TDs and senators have discussed the need to tighten security around the Dáil and Seanad amid fears that groups could target them in a repeat of the violence in Washington on Wednesday.

Rioters forced their way past security barricades at Capitol Hill, smashed windows and scaled walls to fight their way inside.

Four people died during the chaos, one from gunshot wounds and three from "medical emergencies", and 52 people were arrested.

Impregnable

The Leinster House Security Committee will report "as soon as possible" on measures that might be taken to strengthen the protections against assault by a mob or individual.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said the decision was arrived at "after looking at what happened on Capitol Hill and the ease of access that was witnessed to houses of parliament that many of us would have thought impregnable".

Here, armed military police are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the connected Government Buildings and Leinster House complex.

Besides Glock side arms, they have submachine guns, anti-riot equipment and gren-ades.

There is no direct threat at present to Leinster House, but a meeting of the Oireachtas Business Committee heard there is no room for complacency.

The need for a security review was raised by the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Mark Daly, at the Dáil's Business Committee meeting yesterday.

"We're not anticipating anything happening, but a security review would be appropriate," a source said.

Members of the security committee include the superintendent of the Oireachtas and members of the gardaí and Defence Forces.

Ministers are partly housed in Leinster House, while also having offices in Government Buildings.

Security plans are in place for any breaches at both locations, including escape routes and protocols.

Senators and TDs spoke in favour of a "comprehensive" review of security on Kildare and Merrion Streets, with some making the point that the "coarsening of public discourse" seen in recent years, largely on social media, means disorder can be more easily organised.

Doors and gates at Leinster House and Government Buildings can be automatically sealed off, both remotely and across the campus, a measure brought in after a man with a Samurai sword charged up the plinth in the wake of the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

He was overpowered by ushers and gardaí.

There was an incident with an anti-abortion protester verbally abusing TDs, including Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley, in recent years after gaining access as a visitor.

Vetting and background checks are carried out on visitors approved by TDs as part of the security process.

All ordinary visits and public tours have been paused for months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sources said any additional security recommendations that would be approved by the business committee on foot of the urgent review could be put in place "virtually instantaneously from a staffing point of view, although some technological proposals could take longer to install".

Explosives

Recent improvements in security include the installation of airport-style scanners to guard against concealed guns and other weapons or explosives and the use of pop-up anti-vehicle barriers.

Turnstiles have also been installed where there were none to discourage anyone from rushing the entrances or exits, while staff in those perimeter points are protected by bulletproof and blast-proof glass.

It is normal protocol for a crash barrier to be erected a few metres back from the main gate in advance of protests, but some politicians have expressed concerns that these could be easily breached.

"The crash barriers wouldn't hold a penny candle back," a source said.

Another noted that there is concern about the potential for groups opposed to vaccinations to stage protests in the coming months in defiance of Covid-19 restrictions.


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