Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Use of Irish Airspace and Landing Facilities: (Resumed) Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
I thank the Minister. I wish to follow up on his understanding of neutrality. He has stated this is a foreign policy matter, but it has been put to him that he is part of the Cabinet and that, therefore, there is collective responsibility. In so far as he must adjudicate on the civil safety and security aspects of any application made for the use of civilian airports, in doing so he must also make a certain judgment on what the potential security risk might be and, consequently, not only consider whether he believes a flight would accord with neutrality but also how others who might be security threats might consider it. In deciding whether it is safe to use Shannon Airport, he must consider whether others might consider it a target. It seems it is part of his remit to consider whether it would be in danger for whatever reason, even if he thinks it is all fine in terms of neutrality, as others might not perceive it as such, including those who might want to target the US military in some way. The sheer scale of the numbers of US troops and munitions, in some cases dangerous munitions, which pass through Shannon Airport, particularly in the context of the Iraq and Afghan wars, massively outstrips any other licence or exemption given by the Minister to any other country and means that any outside observer is likely to see us as participating, given that it involves disproportionately US weaponry and US personnel in their millions heading into the theatre of war. Is it not reasonable to be concerned that others might think that, no matter what we may say, we are participating and that consequently Shannon Airport is at risk?
The Chairman took certain thoughts from my mind because I was going to use the exact same analogy in terms of somebody coming into a house. I will extend this analogy. Let us say a very good friend of the Minister's, whom he has known for years and trusts and with whom he has very good relations, drops in and states he has guns in the car and is on the way to take out somebody whom he believes is a terrorist. He then states he does not have bombs in the car but has stashed them outside the Minister's property. The Minister would not let this person into the house no matter how well he knew him and how well he trusted him because he would consider it to be participation or support for the action about to be taken. Any reasonable person would say it would amount to participation. If anybody involved in a criminal investigation - if it was not about military issues - was to question the Minister subsequently were he to allow it to happen, he would be considered to be complicit in the conduct of a crime. Is that not the case and is it not how any reasonable outside observer would look at it?