Defence minister cautions against ‘knee jerk reaction’ over Russian incursion

Incursion by military aircraft without filing flight plans was unacceptable, says Coveney

Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney has cautioned against “a knee jerk reaction” to an incursion into Irish controlled air space by two Russian military aircraft earlier this week. Photograph: Gary O’ Neill

Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney has cautioned against “a knee jerk reaction” to an incursion into Irish controlled air space by two Russian military aircraft earlier this week. Photograph: Gary O’ Neill

 

Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney has cautioned against “a knee jerk reaction” to an incursion into Irish controlled air space by two Russian military aircraft earlier this week.

Mr Coveney confirmed that Ireland had been alerted to the incident on Wednesday by the UK authorities but he stressed that at no time was there any risk to civil aviation.

“What happened was two Russian planes, without filing any flight plan or giving any pre-notification, came into international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority.

“That should not happen and it did and because those planes were being tracked by RAF planes, the IAA knew where they were and were able to track them and manage the situation.

“There was never any danger to commercial or civil aviation but that is a very busy airspace – there is about 1,800 planes a day fly through that airspace so there is a lot of air traffic there.”

He said he planned to discuss the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and the Minister for Transport Paschal Donohue before deciding what steps to take.

Mr Coveney confirmed that two aircraft – which the Russians have said were involved in a routine mission – were flying without transponders making them more difficult to track.

Asked if he envisaged the Irish government calling in the Russian ambassador as the British are planning to do over the same incursion, Mr Coveney said Ireland would act independently.

“The British will do their own thing and we will do our own thing – we certainly got notification from the UK on this issue which was very helpful but we will do our own thing.

“We are not going to have a knee-jerk reaction. That would not be helpful.We need to deal with this calmly but we will make it very clear ... this is an unacceptable situation.”

The two Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear reconnaissance planes were escorted along the west coast by British RAF Typhoon fighters which enabled the IAA track their movement.

According to the IAA, the aircraft flew around 50 nautical miles from the Irish coast at their nearest point but did not enter Irish sovereign airspace, 12 nautical miles from the coast.

Mr Coveney said that he didn’t believe comments by Fianna Fail spokesman on transport, Timmy Dooley were helpful to the situation and he questioned how informed Mr Dooley was.

Mr Dooley called for immediate representations to the Russian government over the incursions which he claimed had put both Irish and international air passengers at risk.

“The fact the safety of the Irish travelling public was compromised by these war games is completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Mr Dooley, adding such incursions must not tolerated.

“The Russian and British unauthorised entry into our airspace posed a threat, not only to Irish air passengers but to thousands of people flying from Europe to the US.

“These manoeuvres, which were not sanctioned by the IAA, put Irish air traffic controllers in the invidious position of not being able to carry out their duties effectively. “

But Mr Coveney said he wasn’t sure that Mr Dooley had been fully briefed on the matter and he didn’t believe such “alarmist statements” helped the situation.

Mr Coveney said he could understand, given the relationship between Russia and the European Union at the moment how the incident had generated a lot of media attention.

“But we need to look at it calmly and not build it up into something that is going to cause unnecessary friction but we should make it very clear that what happened was unacceptable.”