The Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána need powers and better technology to counter the escalating threat of drones, according to the founder of the Aer Lingus Regional airline.
ádraig Ó Céidigh, who is also a former independent senator, said laws to protect society from the dangers of drones should have been implemented seven years ago when he first raised concerns about them in the Seanad.
The Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) has also raised major concerns about drones with industry bodies as far back as 2017, but “nothing has been done”, its president Captain Evan Cullen said.
New laws to prevent drones flying into protected airspace, as well as over large public gatherings, is being discussed at Cabinet.
These proposed new laws “cannot come soon enough” to protect not only pilots but Irish society as a whole, Mr Ó Céidigh said.
“What needs to be done, and it needs to be done now, is that the gardaí and the Army need to be given the resources to interrupt drone signals, through non-kinetic means. That basically means giving the gardaí or Army the powers, through legislation and technology, to take control over drones that enter airspace where they are not permitted,” he said.
“It is not just airports that we should be concerned about. It is any large, open-air outdoor space, like the Ireland-England rugby match this weekend for example. There could and should be laws and technology in place to prevent a drone flying overhead of the stadium, rather than just declaring it a ‘no fly zone’.
“There is technology currently being developed that allows a ‘signal fence’ to be put up around a stadium, that prevent drones from entering. Like we have the rules of the road, we need rules for drones.”
Mr Ó Céidigh said it was now “urgent” that the Government introduce new laws to give powers to gardaí, as well as the Defence Forces, to use technology to counter drones.
“The last thing we want is a drone being disabled and falling from the sky. It is about giving the police authorities powers to take control over drones if they go into spaces they are not permitted. This technology is already in place in many other European countries. The last thing we want is drones falling from the sky,” he said.
“There is technology that we need to implement, that we should have rolled out years ago. This is not a criticism of Government, it is about a lack of joined up thinking by the Department of Transport, and other government departments.”
A security source said it was “a matter for Government” about the proposed new laws but said An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces were fully prepared to act appropriately “if and when” new laws come in that strengthen their powers.
IALPA president Captain Cullen said the lack of government action on drones was “very frustrating” and he said emergency laws were needed.
He said geo-fencing — a technology that uses GPS to create virtual boundaries around a physical location — was long overdue at protected airspaces and was in place in many other countries.
Drones were increasing in popularity and there was a real danger that one could be flown into the windscreen of an airplane, which would most likely kill the pilot and endanger the entire flight, he said.
“The government has a duty of care to the general public. We are disappointed that nothing has been done yet, we have raised this with the government since 2017. This feels like a terrible accident that is waiting to happen,” he said.
Captain Cullen said that only 10pc of drones in Ireland — around 6,000 — were registered. The remaining 90pc were not. “There need to be regulations in place for the vendors of drones [so] that they are not permitted to sell a drone unless the buyer not only registers it, but that they also register with the Irish Aviation Authority and undergo training,” he said.
There has been a sharp increase in recent months of drones flying near Dublin Airport, leading to shutdowns.
Mr Ó Céidigh pointed out that while drones can be dangerous, they also can be used for very positive means. “Coillte use drones to great effect to carry out aerial surveys in forestry. There are also instances of drones being used to deliver vital medicine such as insulin. There are a lot of positives that drones can bring society as a whole. There just needs to be greater powers to regulate them and protect society,” he said.