Army called in to provide security at Shannon Airport


The Army has been called in to provide security around Shannon Airport after five peace activists broke into a hangar and damaged a US military aircraft early this morning.

It is the third embarrassing security breach at the airport where US military planes are refuelling en route to the looming war with Iraq.

In a statement the Garda said: "The Garda Commissioner today, having reviewed the security situation at Shannon Airport with Senior Officers and meeting with Aer Rianta Officals, is to deploy extra Garda resources to the area.

"Coupled with this, the Commissioner had discussions with the Defence Forces Chief of Staff and has requested Military support as a backup to the civil power. Discussions in relation to this are now taking place between Senior Gardaí and Army Officials."

Security at the airport was heightened last week after a female peace activist caused an estimated €500,000 damage to a US Navy plane. She struck the plane with a hatchet, causing damage to the nose wheel, and electric systems at the front of the plane.

This same plane was damaged early this morning when five members of the Catholic Worker group, a pacifist organisation campaigning against war in Iraq, broke into a hanger at Shannon. A garda was on duty at the hanger but was briefly overpowered before reinforcements arrived and the group was arrested.

Asked about the incident this morning, the Taoiseach Mr Ahern said security breaches at Shannon threatened refueling contracts which contribute significantly to the airport's revenue.

"Refueling is 40 per cent of the business of Shannon, it is the economy of Shannon. And that is not just American alone, that's the whole business. And there is a real danger we could lose that and that would be devastating for Shannon all because a group of people want to engage a malicious attack," he said.

He added: "Peaceful protest is one thing, there is no difficulty with that. This is not peaceful protest. It is a very serious situation".

Mr Ahern added: "I think we are beginning to see that maybe we were a bit over-tolerant with peaceful protesters who are not one bit peaceful, carrying axes and hammers and lump-hammers. That has to be reviewed".

The Minister for Transport, Mr Brennan, who had said on Friday the lessons of previous security breaches had been learned, today promised that any request for military assistance from the Garda Commissioner "would be considered very urgently".

Mr Brennan told RTÉ radio he has instructed Aer Rianta to make sure the airport police are on full alert and the Garda is on full alert.

"The blame here, and the fault here and the people who have questions to answer are small minority of peaceful [sic] protesters who attack the police force of our own State. They went and challenged a garda. The garda ended up in hospital doing his duty," he said.

A Garda spokeswoman said this afternoon that an officer was treated for injuries but was not hospitalised in the Shannon incident.

The US embassy contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs shortly after the incident this morning and expressed concern at the breaches.