Rendition flights 'used Shannon'


A cable released by WikiLeaks has described how then minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern was "quite convinced" at least three flights relating to US rendition had used Shannon airport when he held a meeting with the US ambassador in December 2007.

An American embassy cable describing a meeting between then US ambassador Thomas C. Foley and Mr Ahern said the Minister noted he had "put his neck on the chopping block" and would pay a severe political price if it ever emerged rendition flights had entered Ireland or if one was discovered in the future.

"He [Mr Ahern] seemed quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere," the cable said, adding the Minister stated he "could use a little more information" about the flights, musing that it might not be a bad idea to allow the random inspection of a few planes to proceed, which would provide cover if a rendition flight ever surfaced."

The cable states Mr Ahern's public stance on extraordinary renditions is "rock-solid" but adds: "his musings during the meeting seemed less assured. This was the only issue during the meeting that agitated him".

"Ahern seemed to be fishing for renewed assurances from the Ambassador that no rendition flights have transited Ireland, or would transit in the future," the cable text said.

Responding today, Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the use of Irish airspace by the CIA for renditions flights following the publication today by WikiLeaks of a cable reporting the meeting.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: "So-called rendition operations are nothing more than kidnapping and torture. The Irish Government clearly knew that Shannon was being used as a launching pad for CIA operations but was unwilling to do anything about it."

The use of Shannon to facilitate extraordinary renditions must be fully investigated and the legislation around aircraft using Irish airspace has to be toughened up."

In its cable, the US embassy also observed Mr Ahern "appeared engaged, warm, and open, acting as if he had all the time in the world," adding such a demeanour indicated the important Ireland attaches to the relationship with the United States.

Earlier this month, another diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks revealed former US ambassador to Ireland James C Kenny suspected the government imposed new conditions on the use of Shannon airport by US troops in 2006 “to dampen public criticism” ahead of a general election the following year.

That cable was the first from the US embassy in Dublin to be released by the whistleblower organisation as part of its “Cablegate” leaking of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic dispatches.