TDs call for free vote on Shannon issue

ANTI-WAR CAMPAIGN: Anti-war campaigners have called for a free vote in the Dáil tomorrow on the use of Shannon Airport by the…

ANTI-WAR CAMPAIGN: Anti-war campaigners have called for a free vote in the Dáil tomorrow on the use of Shannon Airport by the US military.

The Labour Party's spokesman on justice, Mr Joe Costello, said the Taoiseach must bring a motion to the Dáil which would be debated and voted on. The Taoiseach had "sat on the fence" for months and it was time to state his position, he said.

He called on the Progressive Democrats to show leadership on the issue.

They were elected purely as a watchdog of the Government but instead were acting as "poodles", Mr Costello said.

The Green Party chairman, Mr John Gormley, backed the call for a free vote on the issue. He had no doubt that the facilities at Shannon would be withdrawn if Dáil deputies were not subject to the party whip system.

The excuse that US forces did not have UN backing when they used Shannon in previous conflicts was "completely feeble" and "spineless", Mr Gormley said.

"Where are the Robin Cooks of this Government?" he asked in a reference to the resignation of the Leader of the House of Commons over the British government's war stance. "Is there anyone of principle in this Government who would stand up and be counted?"

The deputies were speaking at a press conference organised by the Irish Anti-War Movement which yesterday set out a programme of protests in the event of war breaking out. The plan includes a 10-minute work stoppage, a protest at the US embassy and demonstrations across the State.

The Irish Anti War Movement chairman, Mr Richard Boyd Barrett, said President Bush had "failed to bully the UN into sanctioning the war on Iraq".

The Azores summit was "a charade" to give legitimacy to the war and "a threadbare attempt" to convince the US public that the war enjoyed international support, he said.

Mr Boyd Barrett said the Government could no longer hide behind UN resolutions.

"They must now state clearly whether they stand with the majority of people in this country in opposing this war or with those in Washington and London who are planning the mass murder of thousands of innocent Iraqis," he said.

"If our government continues to allow the US military to use Shannon, they will be collaborating in plans for mass murder and flouting the legality they claim to hold so dear."

Mr Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin's spokesman on foreign affairs, said the Government had treated the elected representatives and people of this State "with complete disdain".

Mr Ó Snodaigh said it now appeared that the US air forces were also landing at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel.

In a reply to a Dáil question last Wednesday, the Minister for Defence, Mr Smith, said there had been 22 landings of US air force military aircraft at Casement Aerodrome since September 2001.

"We need to establish the full extent of this Government's neutrality violations through full public disclosure, not ad-hoc information squeezed out of a secretive Government," Mr Ó Snodaigh said.