Thursday, 6 October 2005
Human Rights Issues.
Question 3: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he will take to prevent Shannon Airport being used to transport hostages to Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else in violation of international law and human rights conventions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27233/05]
The situation remains as set out in my replies to several previous questions, most recently Questions Nos. 603 and 616 of 28 September 2005. I am aware a number of recent media reports repeating concerns about the alleged use of Shannon Airport by the US to transit prisoners to Guantanamo Bay and other locations. Although no concrete evidence of such use has been produced, I want to assure the Deputy and the House that these concerns have nevertheless been raised at regular intervals with the US authorities, both through the Embassy of Ireland in Washington and with the US Embassy to Ireland.
The Government has on several occasions made clear to the US authorities that it would be illegal to transit prisoners for rendition purposes through Irish territory without the express permission of the Irish authorities, acting in accordance with Irish and international law. The US authorities, for their part, have confirmed that they have not done so and that they would not do so without seeking the permission of the Irish authorities. No request for such authorisation has been received from the US authorities. The assurances provided by the US authorities in this regard were once again confirmed at a meeting with my officials last week.
If any citizen or other person has specific evidence that Shannon Airport or any other Irish airport is being used for the purposes described by the Deputy, I of course reiterate the call of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that this evidence be shared with the Garda authorities responsible for investigating such matters.
How can the Minister say this with such certainty when no checks have been carried out by the Garda Síochána or any authority in Shannon Airport to see if these planes are carrying prisoners to Guantanamo Bay? All the evidence we have accumulated seems to suggest this is the case. It seems the Government is once again adopting a hypocritical line of "see no evil, hear no evil" regarding the US. We know that 70% of US troops in Iraq have passed through Shannon Airport. The Minister does not accept that we are complicit in that war, but most Irish people believe we are hand in glove with the United States, and that this is the case in this regard. Did the Prime Minister of Denmark, which is a member of NATO, not make it clear to the CIA that its airspace, not to mention its airports, could not be used by the US for such activities?
The Minister said there have been media reports, which there most certainly have been. Has the UN been in contact with the Minister's Department as part of the ongoing investigation into renditions? If so, what has been the Minister's response?
I can confirm that the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights has been in contact with the Department to confirm that neither he nor anyone on his behalf is currently investigating or inquiring into this matter. He did that on the basis of media reports that appeared in the Irish media. His office got in touch with us to confirm that they were not in any way contacting us. My officials contacted his office yesterday to confirm if anyone has been in contact since he made contact with us over two weeks ago. There has been no complaint in this respect.
Deputy Gormley said the Irish Government is complicit in the conflict in Iraq, but that is not the case.
I remind the Deputy that the multinational force is in Iraq with the authorisation of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 of June 2004, which called on states to support the efforts of the multinational force in Iraq. I am a democrat and accept the democratic voice in this regard.
The 50 year practice in regard to the transiting of troops through Shannon Airport which has been used in different conflicts was approved by the Dáil in 2003. Is the Deputy suggesting that we board and check every plane?
If a government of the stature of the US Government which has such a connection with this country gives us an absolute assurance in this regard, we accept it. Every time this matter has been raised in the media and in this House my officials have contacted the US Embassy and people in Washington and on every occasion they have said that there has been no such transiting. They have said that they do not intend to do so and that if they did, they would ask the Irish authorities about that. They have given that guarantee whether it be Shannon or any other airport. We accept their word like we accepted the word of any other country in regard to such transiting. Did we stop any of the Russian planes transiting through Shannon when they were going to Cuba for many years? We did not because we accepted that the conditions under which they were flying through Shannon were in place. In the case of the US which has given huge amounts of financial support to this country, are we to turn around and deny what US officials, speaking on behalf of a sovereign government, have told us? We would not do so. If the Deputy was on this side of this House with some of the parties to which his party is cosying up, is he saying he would adopt a different attitude to not only accepting the US Government's word but to continuing to allow what is happening at Shannon?
The judge in that case said that neutrality was not enshrined in the Irish Constitution and that was the difficulty. The Minister said we have to take people's word in this regard. We took people's word for this on previous occasions when we were told categorically, and I would like him to confirm this, that there were no weapons going through Shannon, but a number of observers there saw that the troops were carrying weapons with them and the Minister had to do a U-turn on that point. If the Minister had the bottle to arrange for the carrying out of searches on these planes, I am convinced he would find that people are being transported to Guantanamo Bay. Why will he not arrange for the carrying out of searches on these planes?
There is no evidence to support that. No evidence has been brought to our attention by anybody who has made such allegations and, furthermore, we have not received any such evidence. When the US Government gives us categoric assurances in this regard, as it did no later than last week, we accept them.
The conditions of transit are the conditions which have been in place in regard to many conflicts such as that in Kosovo and those in many other countries. These facilities have been allowed over the years in regard to conflicts in Lebanon, Vietnam, Granada, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Korea. These facilities were only allowed on strict conditions, the same conditions as have pertained for 50 years.