It's been a busy few days here in Cork.
Just fourty-eight hours after the Queen and Duke headed back to England after their final stop-off here, Cork and its little airport are back in the headline news again, this time after a crazed man hijacked a police jeep, broke through the airport perimeter fence, and almost managed to drive the vehicle into a departing Aer Lingus passenger jet, before tragedy was averted when the fire service vehicle he changed into broke down after striking a luggage truck.
It's a fairly dramatic news story in its own right (the policeman in charge of the jeep was slashed in the face with a knife prior to the hijacking), but even more dramatic I think are the questions that need to be asked of the Gardai in light of this incident, which is a real rarity in Ireland.
Just days after what was by all accounts an extraordinarily well prepared policing and security arrangement for the five day visit of the royals, which against all expectations went off without hitch, it seems as if a major security let-up potentially endangered the lives of dozens of Corkonians, not to mention whoever was aboard the departing Aer Lingus jet, which was boarding at the time of the incident.
For those of you not from this lovely part of the world, or who haven't had the delight of visiting here, Cork Airport is situated a couple of miles from the city center, depending on where you're measuring from, atop a steep incline approached by two gently steeping roads.
It almost beggars belief that the police were unable to intercept, shoot the tires of, or otherwise stop the vehicle during the course of the long and sloping incline from the city center to the airport, especially after its occupant had just slashed a member of the force in the face with a knife.
With all the impressive policing on show over the last few days, with Garda helicopters, plain-clothes detectives, armed police, and special units patrolling the streets over the past few days, it seems almost beyond belief that only a flukey mechanical failure and sheer luck were able to prevent a crazed hijacker from driving his vehicle into an aircraft full of pilgrims heading for Lourdes, sitting helplessly on the tarmac as the situation unfolded.
Also seemingly incredible is how Cork Airport's police seemed unable to set up a roadblock in the time between when the jeep was hijacked and its arrival at the airport, or how it managed to drive around the airport for a full 10 minutes before coming to an abrupt stop upon contact with a luggage truck.
Perhaps time-frames were short, but a narrow one-lane roundabout intervenes between the city center's approach road and the airport itself, while a slanting but equally narrow road leaves to the airport from the other side (news reports haven't yet indicated from which side he approached the airport). Either would have been potential intercept points as the stolen vehicle careered towards, and broke through, the airport's perimeter fence.
The most important question to ask, though, is how during the course of the ensuing dramatic cat-and-mouse chase between the man on the rampage and armed Gardai (police) ( amazing footage of which has already appeared on the national broadcaster's website, link below) it took a mechanical failure of the police vehicle rather than forcible intervention from any of the armed police present to bring the jeep to a stop -- not after, of course, it had already rammed three other vehicles -- and had this stroke of luck not occurred it seems as if the jeep was on course to crash directly into an Aer Lingus jet, passengers and all?
The attacker, now being psychiatrically evaluated by the Gardaí also managed to change out of the Garda vehicle into a fire service SUV after brandishing a knife. Again how this could have happened while at the airport and being chased by Gardai seems strange.
One of the later news reports about the incident has hinted that the delay in stopping the man was due to the fact that the Gardaí in question had to wait for authorization before even being able to discharge a taser gun on the man. If so this seems like a situation that Ireland may need to address if attacks like these become more frequent.
(The video's here: http://www.rte.ie/news/2011/0522/cork.html#video . Only 45 seconds and definitely worth watching. Credit: Jim Anderson)