Defence Forces operate drones but they are unarmed, Minister tells Dáil

Unmanned vehicles gather information for Defence Forces and no other State agency

Ireland's Defence Forces have operated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones since 2007, but Minister for Defence Alan Shatter said they are unarmed. He told the Dáil the drones were "an information-gathering asset which have no offensive capability".

Four drones have been purchased since 2007 at a total cost of €3.35 million.

Independent John Halligan noted that one disappeared in Africa in 2008 after a technical error. Mr Shatter said the drones were deployed as part of the EU-mission to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008, but they have not been used in overseas missions since April 2010. The Minister told the Waterford TD: "No further UAV is missing."

The Minister said following a tendering process an Israeli company, Aeronautics Defence Systems Ltd, had won the contract for two portable mini-unmanned drones. Two years later two more were purchased.

Mr Halligan expressed concern the EU was creating its own version of the US National Security Agency, when its new military body indicated it planned to operate spy drones, surveillance satellites and aircraft. Mr Shatter said he was "not aware of any EU agency which is seeking as an EU agency on its own to acquire military equipment of any nature or seeking, as an EU agency, to acquire, purchase and use large numbers of drones".

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times