Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Shannon Airport Landings: Discussion
The committee is considering petition No. P00072/12 from Dr. Edward Horgan and others in relation to landings at Shannon Airport. I ask members, delegates and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or left in safe or flight mode as they interfere with the broadcasting system, even in silent mode.
I welcome Dr. Edward Horgan, Ms Margaretta D'Arcy and Mr. John Lannon and thank them for forwarding to the committee a copy of their presentation which has been circulated to members. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Before inviting Dr. Horgan to make his opening remarks, I draw attention to the fact that today the Seanad Public Consultation Committee published a report entitled, Report on Ireland's Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with Observations and Recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and to the Irish Government. Of particular interest are the following comments made on page 6 on extraordinary rendition:
The Committee takes note of continued calls for the establishment of an independent, effective and comprehensive investigation concerning the use of the State party’s territory for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. The SPCC further recognises the outstanding need for an oversight mechanism to ensure that Ireland’s territory may not be used for any such purpose in the future. Specifically, the Committee notes the potential for a Parliamentary Committee to undertake this role in the future.The delegates may want to obtain a copy of the report. I am sure members are already aware of it. I invite Dr. Horgan to make his opening statement on behalf of Shannonwatch.
The Committee strongly recommends that the Human Rights Committee pursue this issue with Government in its upcoming review and suggest specific measures that should be taken to ensure effective oversight of the use of the State’s territory and airspace in order to ensure compliance with Ireland’s obligations under the ICCPR.
Dr. Edward Horgan:
I thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to make this presentation. As legislators, members play a vital role in ensuring public service oversight and accountability. While, in so far as we know, nobody has been killed or tortured at Shannon Airport, hundreds of thousands have been killed and tortured in middle eastern wars. Successive Irish Governments have been complicit in these crimes. An Iraqi child killed in a US air attack or an Afghan resistance fighter tortured at Bagram airfield are just as important as an Irish child or soldier. The thousands of Afghan and Iraqi dead children are just as important as the 796 children buried in Tuam. At the apparent behest of the Government, gardaí at Shannon have consistently refused to investigate these issues.
We are a group of peace activists trying to ensure compliance with Irish and international laws. I am a former Army officer and a former United Nations military peacekeeper. I lecture part time in politics and international relations at the University of Limerick. As a civilian, I have been promoting democracy and the rule of law in post-conflict countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. I am accompanied by Ms Margaretta D'Arcy who is a committed peace activist and a member of Aosdána. She is a founding member of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp set up in the 1970s to protest against cruise missiles which members may be aware were armed at the time with nuclear warheads.
The cruise missiles at the time were armed with nuclear warheads. In the meantime, the nuclear warheads had been replaced by what are called sub-nuclear warheads. Coincidentally, we are now aware that in June 1999 two airplane loads of these cruise missiles passed through Ireland, probably through Shannon Airport. At the time, cruise missiles were being used to bomb the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the television station.
Dr. Margaretta D'Arcy is a writer and dramatist and she uses dramatic actions to expose what is happening at Shannon Airport. Dr. John Lannon is a human rights activist of long standing with Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations, NGOs. He is a full-time lecturer at the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick, is a founding member of Shannonwatch and has produced the booklet on the legal aspects of what is happening at Shannon Airport.
Today we wish to present to the committee what is happening at Shannon Airport and the significance of these events, in the expectation that the committee will take appropriate actions to investigate and achieve some accountability for what has transpired. The details of our presentation are contained in our written submission, which has been circulated to the members. In our verbal submission we will highlight the key issues. I will focus on neutrality, Ms Margaretta D'Arcy will speak on the failures to inspect or investigate what has been happening at Shannon Airport and on the probability that Ireland has facilitated operations by US special forces, including the US drone programme, and Dr. John Lannon will explain the scale and scope of the US torture rendition programme and the extent to which successive Irish Governments have been directly complicit in this programme, in contravention of the UN Convention against torture and the Irish Criminal Justice (UN Convention Against Torture) Act 2000. He will also sum up our presentation and outline what recommendations we would like the committee to undertake.
Neutrality is not just a piece of legal terminology. For small states such as Ireland it is an important concept of international law that enables us to avoid being dragged into unjustified wars and also to promote genuine, altruistic foreign policies that promote international peace. The broadest definition of neutrality comes from international law experts Oppenheim-Lauterpacht, who state that any state that is not a belligerent in a war is considered to be a neutral state and is therefore bound by international laws and rules of neutrality. Some states declare themselves to be neutral states either by writing it into their constitutions or having neutrality as their declared policy. The US was a neutral state for the initial stages of both the First World War and the Second World War. Switzerland, Austria and Finland have neutrality written into their constitutions and Sweden, Malta and Ireland have neutrality as their declared national policy. All Irish Governments have pursued a policy of neutrality since 1939 and this has been strongly supported by the Irish people, as was demonstrated in 2013 in a Peace and Neutrality Alliance-commissioned Red C poll which found that 78% of the Irish people believed that Ireland should have a policy of neutrality.
There are several misconceptions about the rules of neutrality. Ireland sending weather forecasts to England during World War II was not in fact a breach of Irish neutrality. However, one of the most basic rules, from Ireland's point of view, is Article 2 of the Hague Convention V on neutrality, which states: "Belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power". Therefore, a country such as the United States, at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, is not supposed to move troops through Ireland. A clear example of the failure of Irish legislators to curtail abuse of authority by the Irish Government occurred on 20 March 2003, when Dáil Éireann approved a Government motion that, in effect, claimed to state that US military use of Shannon Airport did not amount to “participation” in the US-led invasion of Iraq. The motion stated that Dáil Éireann "endorses the decision of the Government that Ireland will not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq;" and "recalls the long-standing arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft; and supports the decision of the Government to maintain those arrangements".
These statements are incompatible and are an attempt to say that black is white and that participation is not participation. This was clearly identified by Judge Nicholas Kearns in the High Court case Horgan v. Ireland in April 2003, just a month after the Dáil motion, when he ruled that: "The court is prepared to hold therefore that there is an identifiable rule of customary law in relation to the status of neutrality whereunder a neutral state may not permit the movement of large numbers of troops or munitions of one belligerent State through its territory en route to a theatre of war with another". I was the Horgan in that case.
The members of this Oireachtas committee, in their role as legislators, have a very important role in ensuring that the Irish Government complies with the basic rules of international law. It is not just a few dozen troops that have passed through Shannon Airport. A total of 2.5 million armed US troops, huge amounts of munitions and other material have passed through Shannon Airport since 2001.
There are very grave matters of human rights involved in Ireland participating in unjustified wars and being complicit in breaches of the UN Convention against torture. There are also positive things we should be doing in matters of international relations that are being neglected or damaged by our participation and complicity in wars. Ireland’s very beneficial role and its credibility in promoting international peace and justice are being severely damaged. In the long term, it is important that neutrality should be written into the Irish Constitution. In the short term, steps should be taken by this committee and Dáil Éireann to end the Irish Government's abuses of international and Irish laws, and this should entail immediately ending US military use of Shannon Airport. If there is some legal technicality whereby the Garda cannot search US military aircraft, no US military aircraft should be allowed to land at Irish airports.
As we meet today, civil war is spreading across Iraq. The roots of this civil war were sewn on 20 March 2003 with the US led invasion of Iraq, just as Irish legislators were passing a motion in the Dáil that Irish participation in this Iraq war was not participation. Dr. John Lannon will explain some problems we have encountered with the Office of the Attorney General with regard to gardaí failing to search and investigate US military aircraft at Shannon Airport. We have also experienced some difficulty in recent times with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, which has failed to investigate properly virtually all the complaints by peace activists to that office about Garda misbehaviour at Shannon Airport. In recent weeks, also, we have encountered indications that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions might have been failing in its duty to act independently in matters relating to the prosecution of peace activists at Shannon Airport. All of these are serious matters that this committee should examine.
Ms Margaretta D'Arcy:
I am what is known as a do-gooder. I have been a do-gooder all my life. Being a do-gooder means being out protesting, sometimes with a few people and sometimes with many people.
My do-goodering has now exposed the medical cards issue, and I am proud of that. That was a bloody mess. Now, due to pressure from people like me and others, it has been decided that the medical cards are a mistake. What about the Magdalen laundries, infected blood and women whose pelvises were cut open? As we have gone through what has happened in this country with infected blood, cracked pelvises and medical cards withdrawn, let us now look at Shannon Airport. Have any of the members seen the movie "Life of Brian"? Shannon Airport is definitely what is known as a Monty Python scenario. There are civilian airplanes, military airplanes and the Irish Army. I always thought the Irish Army was there to protect the Irish people, but in this Monty Python scenario the Irish Army is there to protect the US military, who are there to destroy half the world.
We had a very interesting time in Buswells Hotel. It was a shame the committee members could not come there to listen to Tom Clonan. I learned something new. Before the Iraq invasion, there was a conference led by a US military gentleman. He said the purpose of the Iraq war was breaking and killing people. Our Army is there to protect the US military, who are there to break and kill people. Is that not funny? Is it not just hilarious?
There is another matter I find quite interesting. It involves a new phrase which the members might note and search on Google, "virtual forward airbase". Have the members heard those words previously? It is a phrase that Donald Rumsfeld used for Shannon Airport. Shannon Airport, and indeed our wonderful country, is at the centre of an aggressive illegal war which destroys people. Do we believe in words? This is a really good thing for the Monty Python up on the cross. Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.
These are wonderful words but I have two questions for the committee. Do words mean anything? If words do not mean anything then what have we got?
I shall continue to outline the scenario at Shannon. Believe it or not, we will hold a fun-run on the runway where we have the military and a history of rendition flights going through the airport with torture on their agenda. The fun-run will be held in aid of the Samaritans. As Members will know, it is an organisation that tries to prevent young people from killing themselves. However, we will hold a fun-run in a crime-laden place of murder and assassination. To help the young people to understand, this is a bit like having a fun-run in Auschwitz. It is most bizarre to have a fun-run in the middle of one of the bloodiest messes in the Middle East. Can we really say that our young people will be given the confidence to live by holding a fun-run at Shannon Airport?
I want members to take my following question very seriously. Do people of my age have anything to live for when we can see that the Irish State had dishonoured us? There was a time when I travelled abroad. I have gone abroad and been to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. On my travels I always felt very proud because Ireland was a neutral country and thus not part of the complicity taking place, at the time, in Afghanistan with the presence of the Russians, Americans and Chinese. I felt good that Ireland was a nice neutral country and believed it might have something to contribute to the world. However, we are now a blood-ridden country. If I went to Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran now and said I was Irish they would say to me that I have blood on my hands. The Government's failure to protect us has led to the possibility of us being accused of being war criminals. That is the reason I would prefer to blow myself up on the runway with petrol rather than go down in history as being a war criminal.
Dr. John Lannon:
As Ms D'Arcy has said, Shannon Airport has become a virtual forward airbase for the US military and, as Dr. Horgan has said, almost 2.5 million armed soldiers have passed through this civilian airport. It has been a logistical fulcrum for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We know the chaos that both of these countries are suffering right now which is a direct consequence of airports like Shannon being used.
The other serious issue that I want to draw attention to today is the rendition planes. We know that the CIA rendition plans have used Shannon Airport. Shannon has been used to commit torture and we have been used to commit torture and to destroy by allowing Shannon Airport to be used by those planes.
I want to draw the committee's attention to three specific points regarding the planes. First, I wish to refer to the narrow interpretation of the State's responsibilities when it comes to rendition planes. There does not need to be a prisoner onboard a plane in order for it to constitute torture. Let us remember that Ireland is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which make it illegal to facilitate torture. The 2006 report compiled by Mr. Dick Marty for the Council of Europe states:
Ireland, could be held responsible for active or passive collusion (in the sense of having tolerated or having been negligent in fulfilling the duty to supervise) ... for permitting stopovers for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees.Second, the Irish Government has relied on diplomatic assurances from the US Administration that prisoners had not, or would not, be taken through Shannon. We know from experience, and I am not going to go through the catalogue of incidents that shows that the US Administration has lied about what it has been doing around the world. However, we know that the Irish Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the European Parliament have said that diplomatic assurances are not sufficient to comply with Ireland's international human rights obligations.
The third area of concern for us is how the State has responded to complaints about rendition planes, or suspect rendition planes, at Shannon. We have provided in our report to the committee a redacted list of over 40 complaints relating to requests to search particular aircraft at Shannon which were made to gardaí. This is not a comprehensive list. The number of complaints that we have made which have gone unanswered is estimated to be over 100.
The Air Navigation and Transport Act gives and has given power to the Garda to search rendition planes. Activists, like ourselves, have brought the presence of those planes to the attention of the Garda. On a number of occasions it has referred to either an instruction, policy decision or letter of advice to the effect that the US military and CIA planes at Shannon were not to be searched. In 2006, and again in 2007, officers have said, and referred to the fact, that the direction had come from the Attorney General. We have written to the Attorney General on this matter and her office has said that the allegations are completely without foundation.
To be clear, we are not making unfounded allegations or accusations, against the former Attorney General, of wrongdoing. We are simply repeating what the gardaí have said to us and seeking clarification on the matter. How did the gardaí, at Shannon, arrive at an understanding that they were not to search US military or rendition planes?
In light of information that we provided in our longer submission that we presented today, I want to briefly highlight five key recommendations to the committee. First, the State should provide comprehensive information on all complaints that were received by the Garda regarding aircraft suspected of being involved in renditions, or suspected of carrying munitions that were illegal and destined for destruction and for human rights abuses, and also for planes that were basically in violation of international and national laws. We have had incomplete and selective reporting. It highlights the Government's failure to protect the rights enshrined in the treaties that it signed up to, such as the convention against torture. It also suggests that the Garda has failed in its duty to investigate complaints made to it regarding very serious matters of life and death.
I am pleased to note the Chairman's point about the Seanad and the International Covenant on Civil Right and the recommendation to have an investigation and oversight of rendition planes, which is long overdue. We reiterate our calls to hold an independent impartial inquiry into the use of Shannon in the CIA's illegal rendition programme which should also address the failure to inspect. We need to learn from what has happened in Shannon over the past ten years. We must ensure it does not continue and that we are not complicit or continue to be complicit in crimes. The Government should also review and, if necessary, strengthen procedures governing the inspection of aircraft. If we do not have enough powers to do so then we must ask that the power to search and inspect aircraft is given to the Garda.
It is fundamentally important that no special agreements are made with the US, or other governments, and that precludes the routine ongoing inspection of state military aircraft through Irish airports. Goodness knows we can recall that when an Irish State aircraft was destined for America the Americans insisted on searching it. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, I believe, had planned to travel on the aircraft. We need to do the same with planes that we know have been involved in appalling human rights abuses and war crimes.
We need greater transparency regarding matters that are of fundamental importance to Ireland's foreign policy. The first step should be full disclosure of all agreements currently in place regarding the US military and the CIA's use of Shannon Airport.
As I said, Shannon has become the logistical fulcrum in ongoing wars, invasions and occupations by the United States and NATO. It has become a route of preference for all US soldiers. When they go to serve abroad they pass through Shannon Airport. Therefore, it has become known globally as one of the airbases that is used by American. That makes it a tempting target for radicalised elements who wish to target American soldiers or state aircraft.
I shall return to what Dr. Horgan mentioned about neutrality.
The final point we would make is in regard to recommendations. We need to enshrine Irish neutrality in the Irish Constitution because this is in accordance with the wishes of the vast majority of Irish people. Those wishes must be recognised and steps must be taken to give effect to them.
As we were preparing for this meeting, it was reported last week that when the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, made his way to Russia last year, a secret US Government jet, which was previously used for renditions, flew into Europe in an effort to bring him back to the United States. The committee may be interested to know that this aeroplane, which had a registration N977GA, is still a regular visitor to Shannon Airport. Why is it at Shannon Airport? Who is on board? Is it still involved in kidnapping and torture? We do not know because the people who have responsibility for finding out will not use their powers to do so? It means the serious issue of renditions and of involvement in wars are not a thing of the past. They are both still with us and they need to be dealt with urgently as a matter of very serious public interest.
I dtosach báire, cuirim céad fáilte roimh na finnéithe. Ceapaim gur é seo ceann de na hachainíocha is tábhachtaí atá feicthe againn go dtí seo. I welcome the witnesses. I commend them on the fantastic work they have done over the years, week in, week out and month in, month out at Shannon Airport. Trying to raise this issue and bring it to national understanding is a very important petition and one we need to take very seriously. I take on board the recommendations put before the committee and we have a number of options at which we need to look.
Dr. Horgan mentioned the fact we send our peacekeepers abroad, are very proud of the work they do abroad and are a peacekeeping nation but that we have questions to answer about the way we deal with people on our own territory. What we have seen at Shannon Airport is an Irish solution to an Irish problem in that successive Governments have done deals, which are not obvious and possibly are not on paper, about how Shannon Airport can be used and they have looked the other way on the rendition flights and the other atrocities happening around the world which have been facilitated by the use of Shannon Airport.
Ms D'Arcy raised the fact a civilian airport is being used for both civilian and military aeroplanes and the potential danger that brings is a huge issue. The witnesses have given us a lot of food for thought in the recommendations and the committee will obviously deliberate on them afterwards but it strikes me there is a number of possible routes we could take. We could ask the Garda Commissioner to come before the committee and possibly answer a number of the questions the witnesses put to us around any understandings the Garda has on the way the policing of Shannon Airport can be done.
The witnesses might tell us a little bit more about GSOC. They mentioned there was an issue around GSOC not dealing with complaints. GSOC has been a regular visitor here and it would be interesting for us to invite it to address some of those issues.
Other NGOs, such as Amnesty International, have also gathered information and it might be useful for us to hear from them at some stage about the evidence they have gathered over the years to build up the body of information this committee has in any deliberations.
From my understanding, the understanding we have with the US authorities on this is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality and possibly for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It might be interesting to discuss that with them.
This is definitely an issue which has been bubbling under the surface for many years due to the fact that the witnesses have focused so much attention on it but it has never been addressed in a forthright manner by a committee such as this and I welcome the chance this committee will have to bring in witnesses - I welcome the evidence the witnesses have given us today - to ask and tease out these very important questions, so that we can all be comfortable that Irish neutrality is front and centre and that nothing is happening on our watch that can bring harm to or maim anybody anywhere else in the world.
Have the witnesses been told by gardaí that they have been told by the Attorney General that they cannot pursue the complaints reported to them? Is that essentially what they understand to be the case?
Dr. Edward Horgan:
Yes. That is our understanding. We have been told by a detective superintendent, a superintendent, an inspector and by at least two other members of the Garda Síochána that there is a letter of advice of some sort from the former Attorney General to the Garda Commissioner advising that gardaí should not inspect or search US military and CIA aircraft. We wrote to the Attorney General asking that this be clarified but did not get a satisfactory response.
I thank the witnesses for being here. I have a number of questions but they are not all in a logical order, so forgive me. The Chairman asked if there was a piece of advice in regard to complaints. Dr. Horgan said the piece of advice relates to lack of inspection of aeroplanes. Is the Chairman also correct that there is a separate piece of advice which relates to gardaí not following up complaints or is that the witnesses own observation of gardaí not following up complaints?
Dr. Edward Horgan:
It is our own observation that gardaí are not following up complaints. It is a separate issue that we have been told by gardaí that the former Attorney General, and possibly the current Attorney General, advised the gardaí either not to inspect the aeroplanes or that they are not legally bound to do so. Clearly, we have been unable to get a proper response on that.
Dr. John Lannon:
The phrase I have from contemporaneous notes from 2008 is "a policy decision" in regard to the searching of these aeroplanes. There is a lack of clarity around this but as Dr. Horgan said, we have been told in many different ways that they are not effectively going to search those aircraft. To reiterate what Dr. Horgan said, from the number of complaints and the number of requests we have presented to the gardaí, there is clearly no intent to search them. I have noted that from Ireland's State report for the fourth periodic review of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that there was some very selective reporting in regard to the cases they said had been followed up on. There was one where it was claimed there were some golfers on an aeroplane after it had been inspected. There may well have been golfers on that aeroplane on the day it was inspected but it is very surprising that the only thing they find when they search aeroplanes known to be involved in renditions, kidnapping and torture and know to have been at Shannon Airport was one set of golfers.
Ms Margaretta D'Arcy:
We are at Shannon once a month for one hour. We always go to the gardaí to ask if they will inspect the aeroplanes and they say "No". When I ask who has told them not to inspect to the aeroplanes, they do not give an answer. There is actually a climate of total disdain when we ask these serious questions. They tell us that if we find something, bring it to them. We ask if we can look at an aeroplane if we find something.
Instead, we had a whole barrier of gardaí, paid overtime to prevent us from going in. To my mind, this is corrupting gardaí because they should be able to tell us who has told them not to search the planes.
That is a separate issue, although it is not an unworthy one, but I am asking a direct question. Do the witnesses know if there is a financial arrangement in place, if it has been ever mentioned and, if so, what is the actual amount? How much does the US Government pay to use the facility? It is a facility so the US Government must be paying for it.
Dr. John Lannon:
The only specific piece of information we have is that the charges in relation to the US military flights are waived. The US Government is not being charged for those military flights under the Eurocontrol agreement. In theory, Irish State aircraft that overfly the US or fly into the US do not pay charges and in reciprocation, US aircraft using Irish airports or Irish airspace do not pay charges for same. We probably have only one or two Irish State aircraft going to the US every year whereas the US has thousands, if not tens of thousands, of planes using Irish airspace annually.
I understand that but, as I have said, that is a separate issue. To be clear, effectively what the witnesses have drawn is a conspiracy which involves the Garda Síochána, the Attorney General, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and GSOC, among others. It is an enormous conspiracy of silence that the witnesses have painted and I am not saying I do not believe them. What I am saying is that if such a conspiracy exists, which is so long-lasting, there is usually a benefit to somebody but I cannot see how the witnesses would not know what that benefit could be to Ireland or if they do know, they are not saying it here.
Dr. John Lannon:
In response to that, I would assume that if there was any benefit to Ireland, we would have been told about it. We have asked repeatedly for clarification on the benefit of this, economically or otherwise, to Ireland but have never been told of any benefit accruing. The only benefits mentioned are vague references to employment and foreign direct investment. However, as we all know, foreign direct investment decisions made by corporate entities in Ireland are not linked to the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. We know that Dell computers moved out of Shannon to the detriment of many people, even though the military continued to use the facilities at Shannon. There is no link between the US corporate presence in Ireland the US military's use of the airport.
I wish to draw the attention of the witnesses to the letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to this committee regarding Ireland's appearance before the TDIP committee. The letter states very clearly that Ireland's reply was one of only 13 responses from 45 submissions which did not require further clarification. What does that mean? Do the witnesses know what is being said here?
Indeed, and we must clarify this for the benefit of our witnesses. The Department's letter states that Ireland has co-operated fully with investigations into the practice of extraordinary rendition carried out by the temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners, the TDIP committee of the European Parliament and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which are mentioned in the petition to this committee. The letter goes on to state that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs was one of only two foreign ministers to accept an invitation to appear before the TDIP committee during its proceedings. That is the context is which Senator O'Keeffe is asking her question.
That is not an answer to the question I have just asked. The letter made clear that Ireland's reply was one of only 13 responses from 45 submissions which did not require further clarification. Therefore, the suggestion from the Department is that it's house is effectively in order. I am asking what the Department is saying there because the witnesses are obviously not in agreement with it on that point. What did Ireland say in its submission that made the EU committee say, "That's grand, thanks very much. That's fine". What I am saying is that the witnesses are drawing the TDIP committee in too and accusing it of not doing its job. I just want to be clear that this is what the witnesses are actually saying.
Dr. John Lannon:
Ireland has claimed in its reporting that all of the complaints and information that were brought to the attention of the authorities have been fully investigated. Ireland has been selective here because as far as I recall, the report to the ICCPR listed either 11 or seven incidents but we have listed 41 in our report. What we are saying is that we want to hear about what happened to all 41 incidents. In fact, we want to know what happened to all of the hundreds of complaints and requests for inspections that we made. While we would note that the Irish State and the Department engaged with TDIP committee and is being given credit for the fact that it was one of the few states which did so, we would also note that the Human Rights Committee of the UN has said in its third periodic review that the Irish authorities have been deficient. They are still deficient because they have not addressed the specifics of that committee's recommendations.
I have a further question which relates to the letter referred to earlier which the witnesses understand exists, written by a previous Attorney General. The witnesses have not had sight of it, although I am sure they have asked to see it. Have they requested it under freedom of information legislation?
Finally, I wish to refer back to the letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It states that the Government received clear and categoric assurances from the US that no transfers of prisoners subject to extraordinary rendition had taken place through Ireland. Effectively, the witnesses are profoundly disagreeing with that and saying that it is not true.
Dr. John Lannon:
Yes and we are disagreeing on a number of grounds. One is that the assurances may be interpreted as meaning that no prisoners were taken, shackled, through Shannon Airport. We have said repeatedly and state again today that there does not need to be a prisoner on board the plane in order for it to be complicit in torture, human rights abuse and extraordinary rendition. We know from reports by the likes of Amnesty International, including Breaking the Chain: Ending Ireland's role in renditions, that there have been at least four - or six according to other researchers - incidents where planes that were directly involved in rendition circuits used the facilities at Shannon Airport.
On that basis we refute the diplomatic assurances that Ireland has not been involved in renditions. I would draw the attention of Senator O'Keeffe and the other members of the committee to the fact that the United States gave similar assurances to the British Government a number of years back but it was subsequently discovered that a prisoner, Diego Garcia, had been taken through British territory they had to roll back on that assurance. Based on that evidence, there is no reason to believe the diplomatic assurances.
Dr. Edward Horgan:
Separately I had been informed by a serving garda at Shannon Airport that two of his colleagues saw bound prisoners on a plane at Shannon Airport. This was partly investigated by the Garda Síochána and was not substantiated but I believe the prisoners had been taken to Shannon Airport. This garda had no reason, that I know of, to make a false allegation and I believe what he told me was true. The fact that these matters have not been properly investigated is part of the problem.
I apologise for having had to leave to take a call. I welcome all the witnesses to the committee and I commend them for their tremendous work and commitment over many years. Ms D'Arcy may be doing this work for the longest time but Dr. John Lannon and Dr. Edward Horgan have gone above and beyond the call of duty in trying to safeguard, as they see it, and I agree with them, our neutrality in the very serious matter of war and military intervention. They have made enormous sacrifices to do this work. Very recently Ms D'Arcy was shamefully imprisoned for doing nothing more than wanting to uphold the idea of peace and neutrality. Let me say "Well done" to all of them.
I missed some of the earlier questions, but as I understand it, and perhaps the witnesses can confirm it for me, it is not the case that we want peace or we have a certain idea of neutrality and we do not believe the Government is living up to it, but the arguments the witnesses put forward are based on international law, human rights law and the obligations of the State authorities to investigate human rights abuses and breaches of the law. Those are very serious issues regardless of people's particular political views on American foreign policy or whatever else it might be. We have international obligations, as we have signed up to treaties, and to international definitions of neutrality and we are flouting them.
Similarly, An Garda Síochána for reasons that are not fully explained, does not seem to be responding to complaints about very serious issues in the way it should respond to any complaint that is made to it. Is that not the heart of the issue? That is the reason it is relevant to bring the issue to this committee. The job of this committee is to ensure the State complies with the law in terms of its obligations. It is a very serious matter that has to be investigated fully to find out if there is political interference. It seems to me that is what we are talking about. Is there political interference with the State carrying out its legal obligations to investigate very serious complaints on breaching conventions, treaties and laws that we should comply with. Would that be a fair summary of what the witnesses are saying?
Dr. Edward Horgan:
Yes, I think it is. It is important to say that we are not conspiracy theorists as such, but we have a strong impression that there is a sort of conspiracy to silence the likes of us and I have experienced this myself. I have been charged on four separate occasions with spurious crimes all relating to Shannon Airport, all of which were subsequently dismissed. In dictatorial countries, we often have what is known as punishment without trial. In respect of Shannon Airport, in Ireland we have a system of punishment by trial. The gardaí have brought cases against me and others on several occasions, knowing that there was no proper basis for the case. The case is processed through the court and I have to go to court time and again as the case is postponed and take time off from what I am doing and hire a solicitor and a barrister at considerable expense, knowing that I will get off eventually.
An even more worrying aspect occurred quite recently, in a particular case in which I had already made a complaint to the Garda ombudsman which had more or less summarily ignored or dismissed my complaint. The Garda ombudsman did inform me in writing that it had sent a copy of my particular complaint to the Director of Public Prosecutions with a view to informing the DPP that the case should be dismissed or should not go ahead, yet the DPP's office appeared to have ignored that. I have been told anecdotally that there is a standing instruction in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that any cases involving protesters at Shannon Airport should automatically be let go to trial. If that was the case it would be very worrying that somebody has attempted to interfere at the level of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which should be independent of political interference. There is evidence that there is a web of interference in order to silence the likes of us and to avoid investigating what has been going on at Shannon Airport.
Ms Margaretta D'Arcy:
The Garda Síochána intimidates people who come to this very innocent one hour monthly vigil, by stopping them and noting their car registration number and asking to see their licences. This frightens people. They do not want to come to the vigil if they feel that suddenly everything they do has to be written down. It is a way of limiting the numbers who come to our monthly vigils.
I have heard the way the Garda Síochána discusses Dr. Edward Horgan. When we went to Ennis to make a complaint, the Garda behaved with total disdain and asked why we wanted to make a complaint. It was really humiliating for somebody such as Dr. Edward Horgan who after all had some kind of status. He has served in the Irish Army and defended the country. Equally, when I was there they said they saw that Ed Horgan slinking around. They have a personal disdain towards Dr. Edward Horgan and Dr. John Lannon, which then catches on. People regard us as losers who are not getting anywhere. As I stated at the very beginning, we are a small group and we are moving forward and in the end it will turn out that we are absolutely right that the airport should not be used by the military.
Dr. John Lannon:
If I could, I would like Deputy Boyd Barrett to put the question succinctly to ask if there is political interference in relation to Shannon Airport. We have come with a series of questions, to which we need answers. There is a legal basis as well as a moral basis for what we are doing. To return to the point made by Senator Ó Clochartaigh on ministerial responsibility and the importance that the matter needs to be given. At a political and ministerial level we have found repeatedly that when we need to get information, that small snippets come from different Departments.
Therefore, the Minister for transport will give a small piece of information in regard to what is happening at Shannon, the Minister for justice will give a small piece of information, the Minister for Defence may give a small piece of information and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade may give a small piece of information, but nobody takes responsibility for these serious matters nor for all of the issues we and others have presented on numerous occasions, matters we are presenting again today. We need oversight of these matters. The issues are far too serious for Ministers to be passing the buck from one to the other. For example, when we ask about specific planes, we are told they are technically civilian aircraft rather than military aircraft, so instead of asking the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, we must ask the Minister for transport about them.
A co-ordinated and cohesive response must be provided to the serious questions we are raising. We need clarity around what Ireland is doing and supporting and around why we have been involved in the millions of deaths in Iraq, why we have been involved in deaths in Afghanistan and why we have been involved and complicit in torture. Somebody needs to take responsibility for this.
Before I let Deputy Boyd Barrett back in, Dr. Lannon wrapped up earlier with five recommendations or suggestions. While I have noted those here, will he forward those recommendations to the committee so that they can be included in our deliberations?
There are two other points I would like to make. The motion that was passed in the Dáil at the time essentially gave a green light to Irish facilitation of the US military machine. The arguments put forward in that regard have been absolutely exposed, because the preamble to the motion which concludes the arrangements that facilitate this should continue is all about Iraq's failure to comply properly with allegations it may have had weapons of mass destruction. We have subsequently discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, it could not possibly have complied, or it had complied because it did not have those weapons. Therefore, the entire basis on which the war was conducted has been exposed as having been flawed. Consequently, the justification provided at the time by the Government for facilitating this war has been exposed. There was a quasi-legal justification for what the Government did at the time. It tried to justify it within our idea of neutrality and our commitment to the United Nations and so on. Do the witnesses think this is an area on which we can challenge the Government - in terms of its compliance with international law - given what has happened in retrospect?
In regard to my second question, the witnesses spoke about political interference, the Garda, harassment of protesters and failure to take complaints seriously. As events move on, things that might be said in one context gain much greater force in a new context. The new context for what the witnesses are saying is the shock of the revelations in regard to whistleblowers, Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, and an acknowledgment by the State that there is a problem in regard to how policing was done at the top. It is widely acknowledged there was political interference with how the Garda conducted its business in certain areas, most notably the Mick Wallace affair, where information was passed by the Commissioner to the Minister and used for political purposes. This would seem to add strength to the witnesses contention that there is political interference with how the Garda does its business, its priorities and so on. Does this give the witnesses cause for optimism and confidence?
Dr. Edward Horgan:
Yes, we would have cause for optimism following the recent changes in the Garda. However, it is clearly our experience at Shannon that the problems do not just exist at the top. The culture goes right down to the lower level and that is problematic. In regard to the information we receive through parliamentary questions in the Dáil, particularly from the Departments of foreign affairs and transport, we are continually told, by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in particular, that approval is only given for US military planes to pass through Shannon Airport if they are not carrying arms, not carrying munitions, the troops are not engaged in military exercises, not involved in military operations and a whole lot of other reasons.
It beggars belief that any US military plane would land at Shannon Airport other than if it was carrying weapons or troops and involved in military operations. They are not going golfing in military planes. We have seen soldiers get out of those planes. In one case last year, we saw a 30 mm cannon, which is normally armed with depleted uranium bullets, at the airport. This issue was fobbed off as if it was an administrative error. The only administrative error was that the crew forgot to pull the gun in before the plane landed. From my military experience and from my knowledge of the US army, with whom I have worked overseas, army personnel never leave the United States in a military plane without arms and ammunition on board. Every US soldier who leaves the United States carries his or her own personal weapon and ammunition with him or her. Therefore, the information we are receiving, particularly from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is untrue. It is either being misinformed by the US Embassy and authorities or it is deliberately obfuscating.
In regard to the civilian or chartered plains carrying US troops through the airport, up to 2.5 million troops have gone through since 2001. We know these troops are all armed. We know Tom Clonan, the security expert, has seen the arms on board the planes at Shannon Airport, yet we are told the Minister for transport, Deputy Varadkar, gives permission for these planes to land, more or less on a daily basis. It is his responsibility to give permission, but he does not have authority or responsibility to be in breach of international law. It is clearly in breach of international law to allow a plane load of troops on its way to a military operation or on its way to war to pass through Shannon Airport or a neutral country. It is his job to authorise or refuse permission for this. It is his obligation to refuse to authorise all such planes carrying armed troops of a belligerent power. He is not doing that.
I have one follow-up question on that. The current claim is that these landings are authorised because these troops are not involved in any military operations. Is that the Government's current claim?
Dr. Edward Horgan:
There are two different categories. There are military planes, painted dark green or in camouflage, which are clearly military planes. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for those planes. It says that those planes are not carrying weapons, not carrying munitions of any sort and are not engaged in military operations or even exercises. Clearly, these planes could not and would not be passing through Shannon Airport unless they were involved in those things.
If they are going to Afghanistan, that would seem to put a coach and horses through any claim they are not involved in combat operations. Do we know for a fact they are going on to Afghanistan?
Dr. John Lannon:
Here is the bizarre irony - the Monty Pythonesque scenario Ms D'Arcy referred to. We are being told the military planes are not involved in war or are not carrying munitions, but the civilian planes are carrying soldiers to war and are carrying munitions. We know from the Minister for transport that these so-called civilian planes are military planes to all intents and purposes, because they have been contracted by the US military. Omni Air International and others are making these flights on contract for the US military. They are going to US air bases. Therefore, essentially they are coming from the US to what is effectively a US air base in Ireland and then on to another air base, which is closer to what they refer to as a theatre of war, so that they can be acclimatised or whatever and go in from those air bases.
We also know there are soldiers in military attire on some of those military aircraft but they are supposedly not engaged in military exercises. This beggars belief, as Dr. Horgan said.
I will now return to the initial question on the quasi-legal justification given when all this started in 2002 and 2003. There was no mandate from the UN and any quasi-legal justification came retrospectively when an attempt was made to put in place some semblance of a UN mandate relating to Afghanistan. Since then successive Governments have hidden behind vague, woolly and imprecise terminology to create justifications. There is talk of humanitarian missions and the responsibility to protect. We have heard the notion of military neutrality spoken of for many years - it has no legal basis but allows us to adapt what we can do while still remaining neutral.
Another matter, namely, sovereign immunity, was introduced by the Minister for Justice and Equality last year in response to parliamentary questions and it is something that can be granted to some of these aircraft. No clear legal basis has been provided for any of these matters. There is no clarity as to whether there is compliance with the Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention, the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights. I could give a long list of such conventions. I am speaking of very serious conventions and treaties that Ireland has signed, ratified and said it will uphold. They are part of Irish law but Ireland is ignoring them while hiding behind vague terms like sovereign immunity and military neutrality.
I am aware that in a different area of law relating to council house repossessions cases were taken against certain policies of local authorities. Those policies contravened the European Convention on Human Rights and legislation has recently passed through the Dáil to address the fact that the policies were in breach of our commitments under that convention. Could we similarly prove a case in the area under discussion today alleging that Ireland is in breach of its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights? We must examine this because planes known to be involved in rendition are landing in this jurisdiction. Am I correct that Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights merely by allowing such planes to land here, regardless of whether people subject to rendition are actually on board while the planes are at Shannon Airport?
Dr. John Lannon:
I am entirely confident that such a case would be successful under the European Convention on Human Rights. As activists trying to shine a light on what has been happening at Shannon Airport over the years, we have been extremely limited in our resources. We have co-operated with other groups, such as Amnesty International, on their fine reports. Largely due to a lack of resources we have not been able to bring a case before any of the institutions mentioned. All of the information we have gathered over the years suggests strongly a credible case could be built. I hope it will not come to that. Bearing in mind the recommendations of the Seanad and others on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, I hope this committee can ensure the Government takes this matter seriously and takes responsibility to do what should be done.
This committee meets every Wednesday and when it convenes we will deliberate and take a number of actions on this issue. I do not wish to pre-empt the committee's discussions. We will correspond with the delegates to inform them of the actions that have been decided upon. Further correspondence and dialogue will be necessary and we will report to the delegates.
I thank Dr. Horgan, Dr. Lannon and Ms D'Arcy for coming before the committee and giving an extensive presentation with full responses to questions. I look forward to seeing the delegates again.