Tuesday, 18 February 2014
96. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the fact that the Defence Forces have been called in on aid to civil power duties at Shannon airport over 300 times a year for the past number of years is undermining the commercial operation of the airport. [7520/14]
Recent questions to the Minister for Defence have revealed that almost once a day on average the Defence Forces are called out to back up the Garda Síochána at Shannon Airport. What does the Minister think of this, given that not one single US aircraft has been searched? Is this not somewhat mad and does it not undermine the viability of Shannon as a commercial airport?
The Shannon Airport Authority, SAA, has statutory responsibility to operate, manage and develop Shannon Airport. I have no involvement in matters affecting its commercial operations. Primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State, rests with An Garda Síochána. When requested to so do, in what is referred to as aid to the civil power, ATCP, the Defence Forces may assist An Garda Síochána in carrying out some of its functions. I understand from the Department of Defence which has responsibility for this matter that the Defence Forces have provided assistance for An Garda Síochána at Shannon Airport on occasion. The SAA advises that every effort is made to ensure any disturbance, including those requiring the assistance of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, does not affect its operations.
Citizens have the right to assemble and protest peacefully at Shannon Airport and An Garda Síochána will facilitate such gatherings on occasion. In this regard, organisers of peaceful protest events should liaise with local gardaí beforehand. However, if protesters do not abide by the laws of the land and engage in criminal activities or public order offences, the Garda and the Defence Forces, if necessary, must intervene to the extent necessary to protect the operation of the airport, its user airlines and the travelling public.
Although the Minister uses the term "on occasion", on average it is actually approximately once a day. Does he not think it is an incredible irony that legislation is used against protesters and yet not one single US aeroplane has been searched by the relevant authorities? He also speaks about the airport's commercial viability not being undermined, but is it not strange that a 79 year old woman with impaired mobility was able to access the runway together with a colleague? Not only did she occupy the runway but she was obliged to telephone from it to alert the aviation authorities that they had been on the runway for approximately half an hour and that their presence had not been noticed. If that is not peculiar, I do not know what is. Shannon Airport has been operating almost as a 51st state of the Union in facilitating the US military. The Minister will be aware that the United Nations Committee Against Torture asked the Government recently to account for its actions in the use of Shannon Airport. What is he doing in this regard?
To give her an idea of the number of aid to the civil power duties, the numbers in 2012, 2011 and 2010 were 381, 327 and 293, respectively. The number of occasions on which the Defence Forces have been called on to aid the civil power has increased in recent years, at a cost of €250,000 per year to the taxpayer. However, the number of munitions of war civilian flights landing at Shannon Airport fell significantly from 1,149 in 2011 to 349 last year. While the number of military flights at Shannon Report has fallen by more than two thirds in two years, the number of protests and incidents requiring the Defence Forces to be called has increased. There is a story to be told in that regard. I hope the Deputy will agree with me and state in this House that while all Members respect and recognise the right of people to engage in peaceful protest, no one should risk his or her life or the lives of others in engaging in incursions on the runway.
I do not agree with the Minister. For the Official Report, I note that citizens have an international obligation to speak out about wrongdoing and what has gone on in respect of the US military war machine.
Citizens such as Margaretta D'Arcy are to be complimented on sacrificing themselves for the greater good by speaking out against that injustice and the use of Shannon Airport for rendition flights. The authorities are too lax in using the legislation we have to have a go at the military aircraft that are using our facility, but much too harsh on citizens who are speaking out for peace.
No action has been taken under Article 16 provisions of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation on the searching of planes suspected of involvement in renditions, troops or arms transportation. While the Chicago Convention applies to civil rather than military aircraft, the US has on several occasions commissioned private companies for the transport of troops and arms and to conduct rendition operations. In 2006, Amnesty International highlighted the fact the CIA was hiring civilian aircraft for military purposes to bypass the legislation and regulations in Shannon Airport. Does the Government have any intention of addressing this? Does the Minister not think it is a bit outrageous that a 79-year-old woman, Margaretta D'Arcy, has to go on the runway to highlight the fact that the Government is not doing what it is supposed to do?
The power to search aircraft lies with the Garda, so that is a matter that either Deputy can take up with the Minister for Justice and Equality. They engage with him regularly in Dáil debates so perhaps they can add that to the list of complaints they want to raise with him.
I am disturbed by Deputy Clare Daly's mention of a "sacrifice". It seems she actually thinks it is to be encouraged for somebody to go out on a runway, sacrifice his or her life and maybe even cause the deaths of other people to make some political protest. I find it very disturbing that she would see it as some sort of blood sacrifice that an elderly lady should offer up her life and potentially threaten the lives of others at Shannon.