Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Shannon Airport Facilities
8. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of soldiers of the United States of America who have passed through Shannon Airport to date in 2015, including the monthly breakdown; the number of requests his Department received in 2015 from civilian aircraft to land at Shannon Airport or pass through Irish airspace while carrying munitions; the number of permits issued for both; the number of requests that were rejected; the reason for rejecting the requests for which permits were not granted; if he will provide the breakdown of the countries from which the requests were made and to which the permits were granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31809/15]
This question concerns requests that the Minister's Department has handled on transiting soldiers and munitions on civilian aircraft through and over Shannon this year. Airport workers' evidence, given in open court during my and Deputy Wallace's case, made it clear that the conditions which the Minister's Department says are in place, ensuring munitions are held in an inaccessible position, are consistently breached. What were the numbers for this year and what checks and balance has his Department put in place in that regard?
The number of US troops who have passed through Shannon Airport to date in 2015 is 39,613. The number of requests my Department received up to the end of August 2015 from civilian aircraft to land at Shannon Airport or pass through Irish airspace while carrying munitions was 566. Some 188 permits were issued for aircraft to land at Shannon, five were issued for aircraft landing at Dublin, and 345 permits were issued for overflights. Some 28 requests were refused, all on the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Of the total 566 requests received in this period, one request came from an Irish airline, six requests came from a UK airline, five from a Turkish airline and the remainder came from US airlines. I have the tabular information in respect of all this which I will supply to the Deputy in written format or, if she wishes, I can supply it to her during this session of questions.
We will obviously digest that information. It follows on from the multiple pages received by Shannonwatch concerning permits sought for 2014. Based on the evidence the Minister has given us today, if anything the number of those requests has increased. In the main they come from the US.
Has the Minister any comments or concerns regarding the types of material that were transited last year? For example, between the USA and Afghanistan, 190 tonnes of ammunition and bullets passed over and through Shannon, probably destined for the Afghan army.
As Members are aware from Iraq, it often ends up in the hands of the opponents, in this case the Taliban and ISIS. Based on the information the Minister has provided today and in the aforementioned freedom of information request, Ireland now is complicit in activities that are giving rise to the crisis talks in the European Union today with the numbers of refugees and so on. The Minister told Members previously that the requests must be verified by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 48 hours in advance. I now am asking whether the Minister can tell Members if this happens in all cases. Where is the written report kept for those requests, including when those requests are not granted, which obviously is in a very small number of cases?
On the Deputy's point regarding the 48-hour time period, I cannot give her an answer now but I will find that information and share it with her. I have done my best to answer all the different questions the Deputy has put me and have given her figures on them. In addition, I have available the monthly figures for this year in respect of the number of US troops who are transiting Shannon Airport and I will write to the Deputy with that information to answer all the questions she has put to me. The one point I will reiterate is that the primary purpose of regulations in this area that my Department oversees pertains to the safety of aircraft and that of persons on board and that any applications for munitions that are categorised as dangerous goods are forwarded to a dangerous goods specialist in the Irish Aviation Authority. Moreover, I am confident that all policy in this area is implemented. I cannot answer now the Deputy's particular question on the time in which such applications are evaluated but I will write to her with the answer.
While I will accept that information, if the Minister is not able to tell me that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade approved all the permits that were granted, then we have a serious problem. For example, some of the information that was given pertained to a permit request on 27 April last year for a flight carrying four Mk44 gun sections. These are vehicle-mounted guns that fire armour-piercing incendiary rounds at a very high rate of fire and Javelin anti-aircraft missile parts also transited on that flight. Some of the information is redacted and some states that when the question and the form asked whether the packaging was in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, technical instructions, the answer is "No" and yet a permit was granted.
As the Minister spoke of aircraft safety and that being his responsibility, when he is searching I ask that in particular, he examine the permits granted to Atlas Air in May 2014 when those packaging requirements were not in place. This is very serious. The evidence from the Minister's own Department shows clearly that Ireland is complicit in the activity that is going on regarding US-led wars in the Middle East.
All the decisions my Department takes in this area are with the active consultation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and are consistent with the foreign policy objectives of our country. I appeared before the summer before the petitions committee of the Oireachtas and answered questions on this matter for most of an afternoon. As for the broad question the Deputy put to me regarding munitions and the kind of material that is given exemptions, the point I again must emphasise is the role my Department plays in this regard pertains to safety of the aircraft and of people on it. Any kinds of items that are given exemptions must always be packaged securely and must be stored in the hold and in such a way that they are inaccessible during the flight.
The Minister stated that everything that is happening is consistent with our foreign policy objectives. He stated his major concern is the safety of the aircraft and the personnel on them. If this is consistent with Ireland's foreign affairs policy, is the Minister comfortable with that fact? Perhaps a new policy is needed because there was a time when we used to consider ourselves to be neutral. Over the past 13 years, it has been established by international bodies that the US military has killed 1.3 million citizens, not military people, in the Middle East and has displaced millions more. This is not disconnected the huge problem in Europe today. If one bombs people's homes - and Ireland allows them to use Shannon on the way to bomb their homes - one can expect people to cross borders and to try to find somewhere safer to live. Is the Minister comfortable with what is happening?
In response to the Deputy, I am comfortable and I do support the objectives in our foreign policy. Ireland is a neutral country. The policy we have reflects that and as a former Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I saw the way in which Ireland's neutrality was articulated in different meetings and in different discussions on the matter to which the Deputy is referring.
I am answering Members' questions on the passage and transit of aircraft through Irish airspace. The Government's policy in this matter is clear. I have outlined to Members all the figures Deputy Clare Daly sought in her question, as she is absolutely entitled to do, and I have stated I will supply further material and I will. As for the use of civilian aircraft and that matter, the relevant legislation or order is the order of 1973. It empowers somebody to enter an aircraft and inspect it, if it is suspected that the provisions of carrying munitions of war are being contravened. I am not aware of such an allegation or offence having been raised in recent years or being reported to the Garda.