Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Military Aircraft Landings
36. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to review the use of Shannon Airport by the US military in view of the destabilising role played in the Middle East and elsewhere by the US, and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18006/17]
As the Minister is aware, the US has been wreaking havoc across the Middle East for decades. It has taken a new departure with Donald Trump at the helm and his decision last week to drop 50 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase. We know the US media responded by saying things like "I think Donald Trump became President of the United States last night". People described it as doing the right thing and the missile strikes were described as "beautiful". Odds-on that Donald Trump will escalate such military action and, one presumes, use Shannon Airport to further his aims. Is it not time that we had a review of such an appalling blight on our supposedly neutral stance?
Successive Governments have made landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the US for well over 50 years. These arrangements are governed by strict conditions, including that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and not engage in intelligence gathering and that the flights concerned do not form part of military exercises or operations.
These conditions apply equally to military aircraft from all countries seeking to land in Shannon. The US, as with all other states, is required to provide my Department with confirmation in writing that the aircraft proposing to land in Shannon complies with the strict conditions set out above. Arrangements for the regulation of activity by foreign military aircraft are kept under ongoing review. In line with this, my Department ensures detailed and robust procedures are in place to ensure all relevant parties are fully aware of the requirements relating to applicants and applications for permission for foreign military aircraft to overfly or land in the State.
I take it from the Minister's stock reply to which we have been listening for the past six years that the answer to the actual question is that the Minister is not prepared to carry out a review of the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. The Minister might consider that recent US air strikes have claimed the lives of 200 civilians in Iraq. Dozens were killed in separate strikes supposedly aimed at ISIS. Women and children were killed in Yemen. The US has launched more air strikes in Yemen in March 2017 than in all of last year, not to mention the Saudi crimes in that area. Ireland has facilitated all of these campaigns by allowing the US military on its route to those areas to land in Shannon Airport. Not only that, we know there has been an expansion of the areas of active hostilities, as the US calls them, in Somalia and so on. We know that drone strikes, which had reached a record under Obama at one every 4.5 days, have now reached a rate of one every 1.8 days under President Trump. We are facilitating this and the time for review is long overdue.
The Minister probably heard about the attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus in Germany last night. God knows what the motive was. While we could not believe any US President in our memory if he told us the time of day, given that President Trump is such a reckless loose cannon, how in God's name can the Minister tell us that it is okay to let military planes through and that there are no arms or ammunition because the US says so? Would the Minister consider searching these planes so that we can assure the international community that under no circumstances are we allowing arms or ammunition through on military planes? As we said before, these planes are not travelling halfway around the world to play golf.
The Deputy will be aware that prior permission is required for all foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports and that, if granted, permission is subject to strict conditions, which I have outlined. Indeed bilateral relations between friendly nations are founded on mutual trust. Both parties have an interest in maintaining that trust. Details provided by diplomatic missions, including confirmation that aircraft are unarmed and carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, are therefore accepted in good faith as being accurate.
Deputy Daly will be aware from previous encounters inside and outside this House that arrangements for the regulation of activity by foreign military aircraft are kept under ongoing review. In line with this, as I have stated, my Department ensures that detailed and robust procedures are in place to ensure that all relevant parties are fully aware of the requirements relating to applications for permission for foreign military aircraft to overfly this State. Ministers are answerable to this Dáil and respond to numerous parliamentary questions on landings, overflights and military aircraft in Irish airspace. Arrangements at Shannon Airport were the subject of a specific inquiry by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, of which Deputy Wallace was a member. I met the committee prior to its completion of its report. The committee also heard evidence from the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Secretary General of my Department.
I am beginning to wonder whether the Minister is going for the job of Garda Commissioner because his answers do not really match the reality. Will he tell us what he thinks all those aircraft are doing? Moving these aircraft from one corner of the globe to the other is not an inexpensive task. They are landing in Ireland roughly twice a day. What does the Minister think they are doing seeing as they are not involved in any military activity whatsoever, even though they are military aircraft? I would remind the Minister that the US website Politico carried an article last week with the headline "Like Middle East Wars? You're Gonna Love President Trump". That is what we have here. We see ships assembling around North Korea, a ratcheting up of the situation in Iran, Somalia becoming involved, the situation in Yemen and so on and Ireland sitting in the middle of it. It is long past a review. We have been asking these questions for six years and getting non-answers but the world situation is deteriorating and Ireland is in the middle of it.
I do not accept what the Deputy has said. Lest there be any doubt, let me say that I was horrified at the apparent chemical attack in Syria last week. The attack was barbaric and my thoughts continue to be with the victims and their families. I condemn, unreservedly, the attack and those responsible. The attack further underlines the need for accountability and a genuine political transition in Syria. This is an international priority for Ireland and is an issue that continues to be raised in the context of EU foreign ministers' meetings, the latest of which took place in Luxembourg last week where I attended and participated. I assure the House that Ireland does not sit in the middle of these issues.