Thursday, 23 January 2014
Shannon Airport Facilities
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá mé ag ardú ceist aoradh Margaretta D'Arcy, atá i mbéal an phobail le seachtain anuas. The question I pose has come more into the public domain this week due the incarceration of Margaretta D'Arcy. She is a peace activist, member of Aosdána, an artist and film maker. She has been sent to Limerick Prison for three months on foot of a court decision that her protests at Shannon Airport were illegal. She contested its decision and was sent to prison due to refusing to sign a bond agreeing not to protest again at Shannon Airport. I call for release of Margaretta D'Arcy. She should not have been incarcerated in this manner. The forces of the State could have been deployed in a better manner rather then imprisoning a 79-year old woman who has cancer and Parkinson's disease. She has been a lifelong peace activist and for many years has highlighted the illegality of aircraft using Shannon Airport as a stopover. She is part of the Shannon Watch campaign. Many other groups have also drawn attention to the fact that aeroplanes land in Shannon with military personnel on board. Other reports claim that military equipment has been carried on the aeroplanes and there have been rendition flights through Shannon, etc.
I tabled a motion to draw attention to the issue of the Government allowing foreign armies to use the civilian airport at Shannon as a stopover on their way to wage war and those aeroplanes are suspected of being involved in extraordinary rendition.
In 2006, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, the present Tánaiste, to whom I posed the question, was a member of a Council of Europe committee that examined the issue and reached the conclusion that rendition flights took place at Shannon. At that stage he said that "not knowing is not good enough." He also talked about the fact that he was being told by the Government of the day that there were no inspections and no evidence to prove that this was happening. There was no evidence because inspections did not take place and the Council of Europe has also said it. We also had the Wikileaks documents in which the Tánaiste's predecessor, Deputy Dermot Ahern, admitted he knew about these flights. We have also seen evidence in a New York court case that indicated that Shannon was used for torture flights. The Shannon Watch groups has also presented a lot of documentation on the flights that pass through Shannon Airport that point to its misuse.
We have been given assurances in parliamentary answers that the US Government has assured us that there is nothing untoward going on. I also note that in February 2008, Ed Miliband had to tell the UK Parliament that, "Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when that had in fact occurred". The US Government does not have a good track record in telling the truth on these issues. The matter is within the remit of the Tánaiste and he has campaigned against this happening. I commend the President's wife, Ms Sabina Higgins, for visiting Margaretta D'Arcy in Limerick Prison.
What is the Government's policy on the matter? When will it take action? When will it carry out inspections at Shannon Airport? How many aeroplanes have been stopped and searched over the term of the Government? What action has been taken to act on the reports by the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, etc., to ensure that Ireland's neutrality is sacrosanct?
There has been a lot of talk about economic sovereignty.
Sovereignty, when it comes to neutrality, is extremely important to the people, with many wanting it copper-fastened as they have fears around the militarisation of the EU. We need to be strong on these issues. If we are to be very much a part of UN peacekeeping forces, we need to practice human rights on our own soil. A key part of that is to intervene in Shannon Airport and stop what is going on in a covert way.
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.
This is the verbatim statement given for the past ten to 15 years on this issue and it is simply not acceptable. I do not accept US assurances that there is no issue here because, as we saw in the case of the telephone tapping of dignitaries around the world, it told us one thing but another thing was happening. This is a sovereign State and if there is nothing to hide on these US aeroplanes, why will it not let gardaí inspect them? It is not for me, as an individual or as a citizen, to find this information because I am not allowed onto the runway in Shannon Airport or to inspect an aeroplane, which is what needs to be done. How many inspections of these US aeroplanes landing in Shannon Airport has the Garda Síochána undertaken? If they have not been undertaken, why not? If the US has nothing to hide, why will it not let the Garda inspect these aeroplanes?
The Government is completely opposed to the practice of so-called extraordinary renditions. The Tánaiste has made it very clear that any person with credible information that Irish airports have been used for any alleged unlawful purposes should immediately report his or her concerns to the Garda Síochána which is responsible for investigating such matters. On the basis of such reporting or any other information where the Garda Síochána reasonably suspects an offence is being committed, statutory powers of entry and arrest are available, subject to international law. That is a fact. Where complaints of alleged unlawful activity concerning the use of Irish airports have been made to the Garda Síochána, investigations have ensued and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, in every one of these cases, no further action was found to be warranted owing to a lack of any evidence of any unlawful activity.