Seanad debates

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Adjournment Matters

Shannon Airport Facilities

2:05 pm

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome this opportunity to set out clearly Government policy on the use of Shannon Airport for the legitimate purpose of stopovers by foreign military aircraft. The Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952 gives the Minister for Foreign Affairs primary responsibility for the regulation of activity by foreign military aircraft in Ireland. Permission to land at Irish airports, including Shannon Airport, is subject to the condition that the aircraft are unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, do not engage in intelligence gathering, and that the flights in question do not form any part of military exercises or operations.

The arrangements governing overflights and landing of foreign military aircraft have been continuously in place under successive Governments for more than 50 years. Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, as amended in 1989, civilian aircraft are prohibited from carrying weapons or munitions over Ireland or into Irish airports unless they receive an exemption from my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. There are no exceptions to these rules.

In 2013, the Department granted permission for the landing of 541 foreign military aircraft at Shannon Airport. Permission was granted in all cases subject to the normal conditions that apply. In the vast majority of cases, military aircraft used the landing facilities at Shannon Airport for the purposes of refuelling and to allow for crew and passenger rest. In a small number of cases, aircraft landed in Shannon Airport to allow for the transport of dignitaries or other persons participating in visits to Ireland, as a result of medical emergencies on board, for flight crew training and for aircraft maintenance purposes.

The Tánaiste has stated categorically on numerous occasions that the use of Irish airspace and airports for extraordinary rendition operations has not, and will not, be permitted under any circumstances. The programme for Government states clearly that this Government "will enforce the prohibition of the use of Irish airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law". Ireland does not, and will not, tolerate the use of our airspace or airports for any illegal purpose, including torture, rendition or the unauthorised detention of any individual.

There is no new information or evidence to support any assertion that Ireland has permitted such activity or that any person has ever been subjected to extraordinary rendition through Irish airspace and airports. It has been made clear by the current Government and previous Governments that such activity would be considered completely unacceptable and illegal by Ireland.

The assurances the Irish Government has received from the US authorities are specific that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be without our permission. These assurances have been confirmed at the highest level. The assurances are of a clear and categoric nature, relating to facts and circumstances within the full control of the US Government and are the result of inter-agency consultation. The Irish Government is satisfied that it is entitled under international law to rely on these assurances, which have been repeatedly given to us by the US Government and repeatedly accepted by Governments for more than 50 years.

In this context, it is considered that all reasonable, appropriate and adequate measures have been and are being taken to ensure that Irish airports are not being used for any unlawful activity. No evidence has ever been produced, nor any concrete allegation made, at any point that any person has ever been subject to extraordinary rendition through Ireland. If Senator Ó Clochartaigh or any other citizen has evidence to this effect, details should be provided to the Garda Síochána to allow for a thorough investigation.


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