Wednesday, 7 June 2006
Private Notice Questions.
We now come to deal with Private Notice Questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding a report from the Council of Europe on extraordinary renditions in Council of Europe member states. I will call on the Deputies who tabled questions to the Minister in the order in which they submitted them to my office.
Question : To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement to Dáil Éireann with regard to the allegations made in a Council of Europe report which states that Ireland colluded with the US Central Intelligence Agency in allowing Ireland to be used as a stopover for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees.
Question : To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether it is imperative for the Government to immediately account for and cease collusion with the CIA network of secret flights and illegal renditions identified today by the Council of Europe, which named this State as being a stopover for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees; and the urgent need to refuse all planes associated with the United States's rendition programme the use of Irish airports and airspace.
Question : To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the report from Council of Europe rapporteur, Senator Dick Marty, regarding extraordinary rendition reports in Council of Europe member states; his further views on the findings on Ireland contained in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Question : To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will request an examination of the findings in the Council of Europe report just published which cites Ireland as a stopover point for extraordinary rendition flights and the need for the Government to require inspections of aircraft known to have been used for this illegal purpose when they land at airports here, most commonly at Shannon Airport, or their total banning from landing at Irish airports or using Irish airspace; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
As my colleagues know, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is in Brussels. With the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's permission, I propose to take the questions together.
There is no question of Ireland having colluded with the CIA or with any other body in the matter of extraordinary rendition. Ireland is completely opposed to this practice and has made that emphatically clear on a continual basis, including directly, and at the highest level, with the United States. The US authorities have fully accepted our position and have made it clear that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission.
Senator Marty suggested that Ireland, along with a number of other states "could be held responsible for collusion". The Government strongly disagrees with this position. The Government is satisfied that it is fully in compliance with its obligations under international law in regard to the issue of extraordinary renditions. Ireland has not been involved, either passively or actively, in any unlawful activity. The connections with landings are made long after the fact on the basis of the imposition of a pattern of movements on flight data obtained long after the landings took place. In this respect, there is no new evidence regarding Ireland upon which Senator Marty could base his claim.
Nothing in Senator Marty's report suggests that any evidence exists that flights carrying prisoners may have transited through Irish territory. It contains nothing which would question the value of, or undermine, the categorical factual assurances we received from the US authorities.
Regarding the landing at Shannon Airport of aircraft alleged to have been used earlier for extraordinary rendition purposes, I again point out that these allegations are based on the retrospective imposition of a pattern of movement on flight data some considerable time after the fact. They do not involve any claim of illegal activity on Irish territory. In this regard, as I repeatedly stated in the House, the Government has received categorical and unambiguous assurances from the US authorities that prisoners have not been — and would not, without our permission, be — transferred — through Irish territory.
Senator Marty has not at any stage contacted the Government regarding extraordinary rendition. The comprehensive nature of Ireland's investigation of these matters has already been endorsed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, when he adjudged Ireland's submission, along with only eight others out of a total of 45 submissions, not to require further clarification.
Does the Minister agree that we must assert that the use of any airport in this country for the transportation of detainees would be contrary to the concept of human rights? The Minister stated that we have not colluded. Does he agree, however, that there is a distinct impression that the Government has turned a blind eye to traffic through Shannon Airport? Will the Minister ensure that all flights using Irish facilities, regardless of whether they involve commercial or privately owned aircraft, provide full passenger listings to the relevant Irish authorities?
What discussions has the Irish Government had with the United States Administration recently and in the past on this issue? Does the Minister accept that it is not good enough to simply accept assurances from the United States or other states and that Ireland has a responsibility to ensure that breaches of international law do not go unchallenged on our soil? How many CIA chartered aircraft have stopped over in Ireland since 2001? Has the Minister discussed this serious issue with any of the other EU member states mentioned in the report?
As already stated, Ireland's position on this issue is crystal clear. This country in no way supports the illegal movement or rendition of prisoners through it. There is no evidence to suggest that this has ever happened. Ireland was one of the first countries to act on this issue and to have discussions with the United States. It is one of the few countries to receive direct, unequivocal and categorical assurances, which the Government has accepted, that no such transportation of passengers has taken place through this country.
It is extremely important we are clear that there is no question of Ireland turning a blind eye to these matters. Ireland has been to the forefront in respect of this issue and has made its position absolutely clear to the United States of America. As I stated, it is one of the few countries given an absolute and categorical response that no such movement of prisoners has taken place through its territory.
Ireland fully observes international rules and regulations. The regulations governing the landing and movement of aircraft are closely monitored by both Departments in terms of any issues which may have to be notified to the Department.
Numerous discussions have taken place at the highest level between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other members of the Government, including the Taoiseach, and the United States. As the Deputy knows, Ireland received categorical and specific assurances regarding the question raised.
I do not have any details on the specific number of flights. I am not sure whether that type of specific information is available. We reject the implication in Senator Marty's leaked report, which I believe has now been published, and I reject the use of word "collusion" out of hand.
Does the Minister agree that a host of reputable human rights organisations and individuals have demanded an end to Irish complicity in the United States' illegal rendition programme? Does he agree that those calls should have resulted in the Government taking the necessary steps to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights and justice for victims of rendition, including the gathering of evidence, where available and when the opportunity presented itself, to ensure that a body of evidence would be gathered internationally to make a case against the United States in respect of its dreadful actions by way of extraordinary rendition, which is a misnomer? Does he agree that this State should have taken all steps possible to gather such evidence, including boarding planes used for extraordinary rendition before or after the fact? Even if no such transition of prisoners took place through Irish airports, planes used for this practice did land therein and could have been impounded to allow the international community to take a case against the United States. The Ministers responsible in this area, including the Ministers for Transport, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs sat on their hands.
I am outlining the context of my question. In light of the report of the Council of Europe, will the Minister for Transport come clean and tell the Irish people what exactly has happened in Irish airports and airspace? Will there be a full and thorough public inquiry into the collusion of this State with the CIA in carrying out illegal practices? What long-overdue steps will the Government now take in response to the most recent report, the many reports in newspapers and magazines and the allegations of the bodies I have mentioned? Will it ensure that the use of Irish airports and airspace by the planes of the US military and CIA, and associated planes, will be conditional on the capacity of this State and the Garda Síochána to search those planes randomly?
I reject utterly the Deputy's assertion that there is collusion between this State and the United States of America with regard to the rendition of prisoners. The assertion is utterly untrue and has no foundation. I reject out of hand the use of the ill-chosen word "collusion", which was used by Senator Marty. I understand that the Senator's report presents no new evidence, is all old hat and has been regurgitated. I understand this from having had the opportunity this afternoon to read as much of the report as possible. The alleged activities are not taking place in this country. Ireland received absolute, clear and categorical assurance from the United States of America that there have not been any prisoners brought through our airports, specifically Shannon Airport. We accept this and the allegation is simply untrue. Were the alleged activities to happen, the United States would require our permission. The international rules and regulations concerning these matters are observed fully by us and other countries and they are fully acted upon by the Irish Government and by the relevant agencies and authorities on its behalf.
There is new evidence in Senator Marty's report. From the evidence supplied by Eurocontrol and the various aviation authorities, the Senator constructed what he terms the "spider's web" of flights and rendition tracks. The report criticises Ireland for what the Senator refers to as "passive collusion". In other words, acceptance at face value of the diplomatic assurances that have been given without checking separately and independently the allegations that have been made and without checking the planes, passenger lists, etc. It is bad enough that Ireland has been criticised in the past for passive collusion in the illegal torture of detainees on foot of flights through its airports, without opening itself to such an accusation in the future. Given that the criticism has been made, that the Government has been notified by the Council of Europe that it is not sufficient to accept diplomatic assurances at face value and that there is a positive obligation on member states, including Ireland, to check such allegations independently, is it the intention of the Government to continue to accept diplomatic assurances or does it intend to inspect aeroplanes, check passenger lists and verify independently, to its own satisfaction, that Irish airports are not being used for the rendition of prisoners to third countries for the purpose of torture?
I disagree with the Deputy and with the assertion in the report that there is even passive collusion between this Government and that of the United States. It is utterly untrue and our position is clear. Ireland was one of the first countries to become concerned about the issue and to approach the United States in respect of it. Ireland is one of the few countries that has received, in absolute terms, categoric and unambiguous assurances that no prisoners have been brought through its airports. This is absolutely the case and the Government has no reason to suspect the assurances are anything but true.
The information that is new to Senator Marty was available for months and was also given to the European investigation. The Deputy is correct that the Senator tries to draw a "spider's web", as he puts it, with regard to these issues.
I do not want to downplay the general concern internationally regarding rendition and torture, which we all, as humanitarians, share. We would abhor it and would not support it. As an Irishman, I subscribe to that view. I assure the people of this country that there is no collusion, as has been alleged by some speakers. It has not happened, it is not happening and it will not happen.
Will the Minister make himself familiar with the Amnesty International report, of which he did not seem to be aware when questioned by Deputy Allen? It stated that between September 2001 and September 2005, Shannon Airport was used on 50 occasions by CIA planes disguised as commercial aircraft. We must first ask what these planes were doing.
The Minister should take on board the legal reality. His statements to date have been akin to those of a priest in church trying to tell us about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is a matter of faith but the matter in hand is one of law. In legal terms, the Government does not have a leg to stand on, as highlighted by the Irish Centre for Human Rights in a seminar at which Professor Manfred Nowak and Mona Rishmawi, the legal adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was legally obliged to search the aircraft. Not doing so was the subject of the allegation of collusion. It was made perfectly clear, making reference to the UN Convention against torture and Article 16 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, that diplomatic assurances are inadmissible in law.
It is not acceptable for the Minister to tell us that he is an Irishman and proud to oppose torture if he is being presented with a case as to why he did not search the planes. Will he take on board that expert rigorous international legal opinion requires that diplomatic assurances alone are not acceptable? To accept such assurances is to be complicit in any wrongdoing that may be uncovered. It is known as invoking the principle of trust. That, if it is all the Minister has done, is tantamount to colluding in rendition.
Will the Minister go beyond that principle of trust, no matter how well-meaning or well-founded he believes it to be, and exercise the legal requirement that these planes be searched? That is a fundamental legal requirement. It is not a matter of opinion, but is, in fact, the legal position as articulated in Article 4 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Article 16 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. In my opinion, the Government is complicit because it has not required the searching of those planes. Will the Minister not just inform the US authorities that he must comply with the law and that it is not a question of not trusting them? It is simply to ensure that, in legal terms, we do what is required of us.
We fully rely on the law. That is the strength of our position. I do not accept that the Government, on behalf of the people of this country, is colluding in any way. The Deputy is drawing on assertions made by people who have other agendas in making points to do with the international view of a number of issues relating to the United States of America.
As regards the first point, Deputy Allen asked whether I had specific information regarding the number of flights to date. Of course I am aware of the number of CIA flights that enter the country. It must be borne in mind that many of these flights come here at different times and for different reasons.
The Deputy seems to ignore entirely — it is important that I repeat it — that the comprehensive nature of Ireland's investigation of these matters has already been endorsed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, under whose aegis this report comes, when he adjudged that Ireland's submission, along with only eight others out of a total of 45, did not require further clarification. What we set out and what we are doing in this country was utterly and fully accepted and deemed to be totally clear in terms of our position with regard to the Council of Europe. No further clarification was required from Ireland, which was one of only eight countries that could provide the Secretary General of the Council of Europe with absolute, complete and full answers to the questions as they arose. People can make assertions but the facts are absolutely clear.
I put it to the Minister that he is not in a position to say whether prisoners were transited because he never inspected the planes. When Senator Norris and I met two chief superintendents, they suggested that the legislation which transposed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment into Irish law did not allow them to enter, inspect or arrest. That was the reason they did not inspect the planes. Later, in questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, it became clear — as the Minister for Transport would know — that under civil aviation legislation, not just policemen but also anybody responsible for an aircraft could, in fact, have inspected the planes. The Minister did not inspect any planes. I read in detail his submission to the Council of Europe in which he fudged the issue of inspection. A further request was made and confirmed here for more information as regards the inspection. I wish to put a question to the Minister of Transport. Were gardaí told not to inspect the planes and, if so, was it by a particular Department or the Director of Public Prosecutions? Why were the two complaints that were lodged not prosecuted?
I have one further question for the Minister. Does he not consider it significant that the independent Irish Human Rights Commission — which advises the Government on its human rights regime — on 23 December 2005 suggested "It is clear that the Government's position of unquestioningly accepting the assurances of a friendly nation is not sufficient to meet our obligations under international law." Is the Minister not concerned about that? Is he not concerned that the committee that exists to monitor the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has suggested that assurances are not sufficient because of the seriousness of torture and dehumanising and degrading punishments?
Is the Minister not concerned that several governments in Europe have said that the acceptance of assurances is not acceptable? Is it not the case that the Government is putting interest above principles of international law? How would it be unfriendly of the Government to suggest inspections to a friendly country if it was clearly stating that it wanted to be openly and transparently in accordance with international law? Why will the Minister not take action? He did not inspect any planes and he does not know what went through Shannon. He did not deal with the question of inspection in his questionnaire and he is not in a position to say whether these planes were used.
What was the plane doing, for example, that flew through Shannon to Rabat and on to Guantanamo? What about the aircraft that landed and then proceeded to Cairo where there were clearly proven breaches as regards the rights of one particular individual? Is the Minister not concerned that the numbers of the planes, in fact, match many of those that were involved in rendition?
To conclude, I have a very easy question for the Minister. Does he believe that the planes which are leased from the private sector by the CIA for these purposes are civilian aircraft? He, as Minister for Transport, is dealing with them as civilian aircraft under civil aviation legislation. Is this not absurd?
I do not doubt the Deputy's passionately held views on this issue. However, I want to be clear. Reliance on diplomatic assurances in cases of extradition and deportation relates to the detail of how a particular individual will be treated. However, the assurances on which the Government relies relate to a categorical factual statement that no individuals are being transferred through Irish territory. Ireland is completely entitled under international law to rely on this and it does so.
The Government is entitled to rely, as regards international law, but the Minister has been advised by the United Nations and the Irish Human Rights Commission that this is a matter in which such assurances should not be relied upon.
From an Irish perspective, the Government, even before this matter grew into the big international issue it was to become and everyone decided to become involved, specifically spoke to the US authorities on the point. Ireland was one of the few countries to obtain an absolutely categorical factual statement from the Americans to the effect that no such practice has taken place in respect of the movement of prisoners — or rendition issues — through this country. It has not happened.
Either we trust friendly international countries or we do not. On behalf of the people of this country, the Government set out to reassure itself as regards the factual position. We received a factual statement from the Americans, which satisfies the meeting of our obligations under international law.
We do not dispute the fact that the Minister received a categorical statement from the United States on these matters. However, if he considers the suspicious patterns of aircraft, numbers, routes and quantity involved, does it not raise a reasonable suspicion that there is something strange about them that might require extra action on the part of the Government? Senator Marty came to the conclusion that the Irish were passively at fault in respect of transfer of prisoners in the case of extraordinary rendition. How will the Minister respond to that? Will there be an individual response or will a collective response be issued in conjunction with the other countries that have been found to be passively responsible? I presume that the countries that have been found to be actively involved will simply admit it.
Ireland is a neutral country. It is one of the few neutral member states of the European Union. In that context and taking account of the extra sovereignty our neutrality underpins, in respect of the pattern of strange CIA activity on our soil, there is an additional onus on the Minister to ensure that he will go one step further and not simply accept statements from another nation, friendly though it may be. We must exercise our international and domestic right to ensure that Ireland, as a neutral sovereign country, is absolutely satisfied that nothing illegal is taking place on our soil.
There are issues in this regard in the report, which was only published today and which must be considered. Issues in regard to some of the recommendations and the approaches to be taken into the future will have to be considered at European level by all member states. We will respond in that context. We will consider all the matters that arise and how we will deal with them.
I reject the allegation made in absolute terms. The Government does not accept that there is passive collusion with the United States in respect of the issue of extraordinary rendition. We simply reject that. The position is clear and straightforward. As to the allegation of our being actively or passively involved, we fully reject the allegation on both counts.
When the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Government, made a direct request to the American authorities to deal with this issue on foot of concerns legitimately raised in this country — the Government has a right to seek specific answers on behalf of the people — answers were obtained. The Deputies are now suggesting that it was pointless to ask the question in the first instance——
——because we did not want to believe the US authorities. We received a categorical factual statement on this matter from the American authorities. We, as a Government, have no reason to disbelieve that. One can, if one so desires, paint a mosaic of possible coincidences, although tenuously in some circumstances, regarding the movement of planes, etc.——
——within Europe. However, what I and the Government have been concerned about all along is to make it absolutely clear to the Americans that any extraordinary renditions are unacceptable with regard to this country. We do not like it as a practice.
With regard to any of our State facilities being used and abused, if such events were occurring, it would be an absolute abuse and a breach of trust. As to the Government, either on a passive or active basis being involved, there are no circumstances in which it would accept that the word "collusion" has any legitimacy because it simply untrue.
The Minister admitted initially that neither he nor Department of Foreign Affairs officials have had time to consider in detail the report published today. In view of the fact that his Department will examine this report in the coming days, will he give an assurance that this matter will be raised at the Council of Ministers on 12 or 13 June? It is a Council of Europe document and it is of sufficient status that this matter be discussed at the Foreign Ministers' meeting, which I understand will take place next week.
Having examined the detail of the report, will the Minister give the House an assurance that further negotiations or discussions will take place with the US Administration on this issue and that the Department of Foreign Affairs will use its good offices to ensure that the US ambassador will meet the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, either in public or private session, to discuss this issue? We met him informally outside the normal structures of committees but this issue is of sufficient seriousness to have a structured exchange of views, either privately or publicly.
Will the Government continue to simply repeat the mantra that the Minister has repeated several times, namely, that the Government has been given diplomatic assurances that there is no involvement in extraordinary rendition from Ireland? Will it detail the various issues raised in this report, the Amnesty report and the specifics referred to by Deputy Michael D. Higgins regarding specific planes that have passed through Shannon and flown to various destinations? Will the Government——
Has the Minister sought a categoric assurance regarding the transportation of white phosphorus or other illegal US munitions through Shannon Airport? Does he know if kilo company of the third battalion of the first marine corps was transported through Shannon Airport?
Will the Minister make available the legal opinion, over which he said he stands, which indicates that it is sufficient to obtain a verbal reassurance in this regard because we possess a legal opinion which indicates that inspections must be carried out?
The House will want to stand back from this report and not rush to make a judgment on it. This is a draft and not a final report. In response to Deputy Allen's question, I do not believe it will be raised at the Foreign Ministers' meeting next week. I have not spoken to the Minister directly but it must be considered before it is presented in its final form. That is the first point I wish to make.
The second point on which I want to be abundantly clear is that we reject absolutely Senator Marty's view that this country is either actively or passively in collusion with the United States of America on the extraordinary rendition issue. When this became an issue, Ireland was one of the first countries to seek meetings and speak directly to the Americans in respect of it. We questioned them in specific terms and we received an absolute, factual and categorical response, namely, that no such prisoners were brought through Shannon Airport. It has not happened in the past, it is not happening now and it will not happen in the future. It is important that all of us in this House understand the Government's position on this matter, which is consistent. It is not a mantra, as Deputy O'Sullivan said, rather it is a strong position under international law.