Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Military Aircraft Landings
7. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Question No. 18 of 23 September 2015, if his Department relies solely on assurances from foreign airlines and militaries that personal weapons permitted on board civil aircraft used by foreign militaries, under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, are unloaded, and that there is no ammunition on board the aircraft; if so, if he is satisfied that such assurances are sufficient to ensure that no breach of the legislation occurs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39256/15]
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport gives permits on a regular basis to foreign airlines and militaries for troops and munitions to pass through or over Ireland. Does the Minister rely solely on assurances that all regulations are adhered to, or do scheduled or random inspections ever occur? Is the Minister satisfied that no breaches of international law are occurring?
Airlines applying for exemptions under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 make such applications on a dedicated application form for each flight. In approximately 90% of cases the applications relate to the personal weapons of the troops on board the flight. The application forms for such flights specify that the exemption is being sought for the personal weapons of the troops on board and that no ammunition will be carried.If ammunition is being carried on a particular flight, it will be clearly stated on the application form. Ammunition is classified under International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, regulations as a dangerous good and must be packaged accordingly and stored safely. The flights carrying the personal weapons of the troops on board that transit through Irish airspace and airports are operated by well-known US and EU airlines. These airlines are subject to strict domestic, international and EU safety and security regulations. I have no reason to suspect the 1973 order is not being adhered to.
I will clarify a comment I made the last time I answered an oral question on this matter, Question No. 8 on 23 September. While preparing the reply to today's question, it became apparent to me that I had inadvertently given the impression that all munitions were packaged securely and stored in the hold in such a way that they are inaccessible during the flight. However, these rules apply to munitions that are classified by ICAO as dangerous goods, such as ammunition or explosives. Unloaded personal weapons are not classified as dangerous goods by ICAO. On this basis, the international rules for the carriage of dangerous goods by air do not apply to unloaded weapons. There are no special packing requirements for such items given that they do not pose a safety risk to civil aircraft.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The US Department of Defense procedures, which are available publicly, permit the carriage of unloaded weapons in the cabin of civil aircraft. However, these procedures permit this only in circumstances where all the passengers on board the aircraft are military personnel, that is, a troop charter flight, and where the weapons are unloaded, rendered inoperable and stored securely within the cabin. It should also be borne in mind that these flights have to overfly or land in a number of other European countries besides Ireland and that common EU safety and security rules apply. I am not aware that such flights have raised aviation safety concerns in other jurisdictions.
The Minister says he carries out no scheduled or random inspections and takes them at their word that everything is always okay. Given that 33 million people have been displaced by war and there has been an incredible refugee crisis for some time, should we not be more concerned about what is passing through Shannon Airport and our airspace? Under freedom of information, Shannonwatch got details of flights that have come through Shannon and overflights during the past year. On 15 November 2014 and 16 November 2014, explosives and rockets with bursting charges, which are probably cluster bombs, went to Saudi Arabia. That is a war front. Amnesty International has highlighted recently the terrible atrocities and war crimes taking place daily in Yemen. Munitions are being flown through our airspace to Saudi Arabia to facilitate its war crimes. Does the Minister's Department ever consider the end result of giving permits for munitions and troops to pass through our airspace?
The civil aircraft used to transport munitions or troops through Ireland are subject to the same civil aviation legislation as other civil aircraft. International and national legislation allows for inspection of aircraft from other states and authorised officers of the Minister or the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, have the usual powers of inspection of all aircraft in Ireland for the purposes of ensuring compliance with air navigation and transport Acts. This legislation, like any other legislation, is implemented in a way that is consistent with our broader foreign policy and Government policy. The 1973 order empowers an authorised officer to enter and inspect a civil aircraft if it is suspected that the provisions on carrying munitions of war are being contravened. Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed, the Garda Síochána has available powers of entry, search and seizure as part of its duty to prevent and detect crime.
The Minister says he does not avail of the rules and regulations in place. If we had a speed limit of 100 km/h on national routes but never inspected drivers, people could drive at 150 km/h. If we never inspect to determine whether people are keeping the rules, how can we know what they do? In 2014, 190 tonnes of bullets went through our airspace on six flights to Afghanistan alone. How many people did these bullets kill? How in God's name can the Minister tell me his Department can be comfortable with or can even know whether human rights are being abused or war crimes committed with the help of the munitions or through the actions of the troops passing through our airspace? Since 2001, the US military alone has killed 2.1 million citizens - not people carrying guns or explosives but citizens. How can the Government say we are still a neutral country given that we are facilitating it? We are complicit in major war atrocities. How can the Minister stand over it?
Our country is neutral. Our foreign policy is very clear on it and informs all choices the Government makes on foreign policy and other matters. My Department has clear responsibilities regarding legislation on the safety of aircraft. To extend the Deputy's analogy, the implementation of road traffic law is a matter for the Garda Síochána and, similarly, if there is evidence that the law I have described is being contravened in any way, it is also a matter for the Garda Síochána.
Regarding how my Department engages with other Departments, for any application that comes in regarding a civil aircraft and its use in the carriage of munitions and weapons, my Department seeks the views of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding foreign policy matters and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security issues. If the munitions are classified as dangerous goods, the views of the IAA are also sought and applications are sent to the Department of Defence. If any of the bodies object, an exemption is generally not granted.