Troops and munitions passing through Ireland: what is happening?

US stresses importance of Shannon for transport of its troops to ‘theatres of war’

Protestors march to Shannon Airport to protest about US military equipment and troops passing through the airport. Photograph: Alan Betson

Protestors march to Shannon Airport to protest about US military equipment and troops passing through the airport. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Has Ireland always allowed munitions of war to pass through or over the State?
No. The initial legislation governing munitions of war passing through Ireland dates back to the early years of the Free State. Article 26 of the Air Navigation (General) regulations 1930 explicitly prohibits the transportation of munitions of war, other than those of the Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State).

It was not until 1964 that the minister for transport was given discretion to decide if munitions of war could pass through or over Ireland.

Where is this weaponry and equipment being transported to, and by whom?
Civilian planes chartered by the US military going between the US and Afghanistan flew over Ireland most frequently between 2014 and last November. These were civilian aircraft chartered by the US military carrying weapons and other military equipment. While no troops bound for Afghanistan passed through Irish airports or airspace during that period, there were 65 overflights from the US that carried munitions of war. Fifty-seven of these flights were carrying what was classified as “dangerous goods” such as explosives, while others carried small arms, weapons cartridges and other materials. Weapons and equipment that passed through Irish airports or airspace were transported to 21 different countries around the world.

What happens with actual military planes?
The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for granting permission to military planes (as distinct from civilian flights chartered by foreign military) seeking to land in Ireland. The only available data for these planes shows the number of requests by country. Some 2,759 requests were made to the department between the start of 2014 and last June, with the US accounting for 2,350 (85 per cent) of these. When asked to provide more detail surrounding these flights, the department declined.

“Arrangements under which permission is granted for foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports are governed by strict conditions,” it said. “These routinely include stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and must not engage in intelligence gathering, and that the flights in question must not form part of any military exercise or operation.”

Has the State effectively banned such flights?
There is no official protocol in place but the last flight to receive permission to overfly Ireland with “dangerous goods” on board was on July 17th, 2016 when Mr Ross approved the carriage of weapons cartridges and inert projectiles. Since then no other flight has transited through Ireland en route to Afghanistan, with Mr Ross refusing three subsequent requests for flights to Afghanistan. A month later he refused a seemingly identical flight carrying weapons cartridges and inert projectiles. In May 4th of last year he refused a flight carrying two igniters and cartridges, which are classed as “dangerous goods” and on October 2nd last he refused a flight carrying two helicopters.

Why is nobody complaining?
The amount of flights that it has affected by the banning of “dangerous goods” through Ireland is small enough to not make a significant difference, especially in relation to overflights. However, if this policy was to be extended to troops, there would be serious diplomatic connotations. The US government has consistently stressed the importance of Shannon Airport for the transport of American troops to “theatres of war” around the world.

Does anyone in Dublin officialdom mind that this has happened?
Officials at the Department of Transport said there was no opposition to the move and they passed on the message to airlines that routinely carried “dangerous goods” through Irish airports or airspace that they would no longer receive permission to do so.

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