US military use of Shannon puts Ireland ‘at risk’, says TD Clare Daly

Claims military aircraft stopover exposes Irish peacekeepers in Middle East

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Photograph: Alan Betson

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Jul 10, 2014, 01:00

Ireland is at risk of attack because it facilitates the stopover of US military aircraft at Shannon airport, Independent TD Clare Daly has claimed.

She said the leadership of Hizbullah had said it was “disappointed that a neutral country would facilitate the American war machine in the manner in which Ireland was doing”.

The Dublin North TD claimed it exposed Irish peacekeeping troops in Syria and other areas of the Middle East to unwanted attention and Ireland as a potential target.

She was speaking during debate on the State Airports (Shannon Group) Bill, which establishes a new commercial State company comprising Shannon Airport and the restructured development agency for the region, Shannon Development.

Amendments

Ms Daly and Independent TD Mick Wallace introduced amendments that specifically require authorised officers to search aircraft arriving at Shannon.

But Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar rejected the amendments and said there were sufficient powers in existing legislation. Mr Varadkar said An Garda Síochána had extensive powers to inspect aircraft or question people.

He said that as a matter of policy, Ireland did not allow foreign military aircraft overflying or landing in the State to be armed, to carry arms, munitions or explosives, or to engage in intelligence gathering. “Nor may they engage in military exercises or operations,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had made it clear to the US on a number of occasions that it would be illegal to transit prisoners for rendition purposes through Irish territory without the express permission of Irish authorities.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

He added that as Minister he did not adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach. “On taking office I asked if there was anything I needed to know about Shannon and unlawful rendition and I was assured by my senior officials that there was not”.

The Minister also said that the number of military transits was falling, but Ms Daly said there were 630 last year.

She said there was an onus on the State to carry out searches. “There is no way the aircraft, which travel around the world, land in Ireland twice a day for nothing or that they are not carrying arms and are not involved in anything.”

Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis said “the only reason we do not check the flights is that the US is an ally. That is not a sufficiently good reason for not checking the flights and adhering to proper international best practice.”

Mr Varadkar said the Government accepted in good faith the word of the US that it was not carrying weapons. The amendment was rejected by 108 votes to 26.