International militaries “regularly” operate off Republic, Irish aviation officials say

UK, US, France, Russia, NATO conducted recent operations, Committee told

International military exercises off Ireland are "relatively routine" and operations by the British, French and American militaries, as well as Nato, have all taken place off Ireland in recent years, senior officials from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) have said.

Peter Kearney, IAA chief executive, and Peter Kavanagh, the authority's manager of operations, told a hearing of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications that precautions had been put in place for previously planned Russian drills off the south west coast.

However, as the Russian exercise had been relocated further away from Ireland, the IAA precautions had been cancelled and it regarded the matter as closed.

The Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) met the Russian ambassador Yuriy Filatov in Dublin last week to raise its concerns about the plans to hold the drills in an area where it said its members fished.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD (FG), who also holds the defence portfolio, had raised with the Russians the Government's concerns about the original plans. It was Mr Coveney who announced the decision by the Russians to move their warships further from Ireland for the exercise.

At the Oireachtas Committee meeting on Wednesday Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) praised the "courage" of fishermen and asked Mr Kearney and Mr Kavanagh if there were lessons to be learned from what the fishermen had "achieved".

Mr Dooley suggested ambassadors of any other country planning military drills off the coast of Ireland could be contacted to see “if an accommodation such as the one that was achieved by the fishermen could be achieved”.

However, this idea was not supported by the IAA officials, who explained in detail to Mr Dooley why it could not happen and was not required.

Mr Kavanagh said that international military exercises were not uncommon and they were not something he and his colleagues at the IAA would lobby to have moved.

“The point I’m trying to get across is that this is standard international practice,” he said, adding he was “not sure” asking countries to move exercises was “something that the board (of the IAA) could even get involved in”.

As the Russian exercises had been initially planned in “international waters… they’re allowed to do it under international law”.

If the Russian plans had gone ahead, a section of airspace under the control of the IAA would have been restricted for safety reasons from Thursday to next Tuesday.

However, as the drills were now moved further away, no restrictions would apply as none of the new Russian arrangements were in airspace under Irish responsibility, either directly or indirectly.

‘Relatively routine’

Mr Kearney said in recent years the British, French, US and Nato had conducted military exercises off the coast of Ireland. These were “relatively routine” and were treated in the same precautionary manner the IAA planned to take to the Russian drills if they had gone ahead where initially planned.

Mr Kearney added the Russians had "complied fully" with their international safety obligations relating to the drills they had initially planned. He further explained in the last five years there had been four significant military exercises off Ireland; by Russia in 2017, by Nato in 2017, France in 2021 and the UK/Nato in 2021.

Mr Kavanagh said of international military movements off the coast of Ireland: “We would see one or two of them per year in certain portions of the airspace”.

He added countries wishing to conduct military exercises in international waters, as Russia planned, did not need to seek permission but instead informed countries like Ireland what their plans were.

One of the recent military operations by Britain in Irish controlled waters occurred in the same area the Russians had planned to use, before they decided to move further from Ireland. There was also a joint UK-US military exercise off the coast of Ireland last year.

Asked by Committee chairman Kieran O’Donnell TD (FG) how many military aircraft were detected by the IAA in Irish airspace in recent years, Mr Kearney said 145 such flights had been identified and guided since 2017.

Of those, 133 flights were UK or US, seven were French and five were from Russia. There was also one such flight as recently as Wednesday, from the US.

In the case of all five Russian flights detected since 2017, the transponders were not turned on and the Irish authorities were alerted by the British about the presence of those Russian aircraft; one in 2017, three in 2020 and one last year.

For all of the other flights - by the UK, US and French militaries - the transponders were on.

Mr Kearney said Russia was “the one entity” that flew their aircraft into Irish airspace, but not over Irish territorial waters, with their transponders off.

This was “uncomfortable and we don’t like it… but they are not doing anything they are not entitled to do” as long as they did not fly over Irish territorial waters, which is the zone 12 nautical miles around Ireland.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times