Protests at Shannon Airport increase despite two-thirds fall in US military flights
’Almost daily’ call for Defence Forces to help gardaí costs taxpayer €250,000 a year
Independent TD Clare Daly questioned Shannon Airport’s commercial viability in referring to jailed protester Margaretta D’Arcy (above) and said it was “strange that a 79-year-old woman with impaired mobility was able to access the runway with a colleague”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
The number of protests at Shannon Airport has increased in the past two years despite a two-thirds drop in US military flights in the same period, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said.
He told the Dáil the Defence Forces were called to assist the civil powers at the airport 381 times in 2012, 327 in 2011 and 293 in 2010, and this cost the taxpayer €250,000 a year.
Mr Varadkar was responding to Independent TD Clare Daly, who said the figures showed the Defence Forces were called out almost once a day but “not one single US aircraft has been searched”, which Ms Daly described as “mad”. She suggested it undermined the viability of Shannon as a commercial airport.
Ms Daly accused the airport of operating “almost as a 51st state of the union in facilitating the US military”, and said it was an “incredible irony” that legislation was used against protestors “and yet not one single US aeroplane has been searched by the relevant authorities”.
But Mr Varadkar said if protestors engaged in “criminal activities or public order offences”, gardaí and the Defence Forces “must intervene to the extent necessary to protect the operation of the airport, its user airlines and the travelling public”.
Ms Daly questioned the airport’s commercial viability in referring to jailed protester Margaretta D’Arcy and said it was “strange that a 79-year-old woman with impaired mobility was able to access the runway with a colleague”.
The Dublin North TD said: “Not only did she occupy the runway but she was obliged to telephone from it to alert the aviation authorities that they had been on the runway for approximately half an hour and that their presence had not been noticed.”
Independent TD Mick Wallace said no action had been taken on the searching of aircraft suspected of involvement in renditions, troops or arms transportation.
Mr Varadkar said the power to search aircraft rested with the gardaí, and the issue should be raised with the Minister for Justice.
Ms Daly had said Ms D’Arcy and protestors like her were to be “complimented on sacrificing themselves for the greater good by speaking out against that injustice and the use of Shannon Airport for rendition”.