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Dáil Diary no 24. 15 March 2015

Government in Denial - But Ireland is complicit in War Crimes...

Shannon is a civilian airport but the present and former Governments have allowed it to be used as a US Military airbase, despite the fact that this airport is not designed for that purpose. Almost two and a half million US troops have passed through Shannon since 2001, and endless quantities of arms and munitions – and all for what? The result of same is horrific, as the US Military war machine has devastated the Middle East region and beyond. Over a million civilians have been killed, countless millions displaced, the use of torture and indiscriminate bombing has made a mockery of International Law, while the only winner is the all too powerful arms industry. Sadly, by allowing our airport to be used as a US Military base, and our airspace to be constantly used by US planes on their way to a war front, Ireland has abandoned all notions of neutrality, is in breach of International Law, and is complicit in war crimes. Are we ever going to hold any politicians to account for their role in the slaughter of so many innocent people?

Yesterday, I questioned Minister Coveney on the role of the Defence Forces in protecting those Military aircraft – once again, clarity was in short supply. Here’s my contribution on the issue.-

Mick Wallace: Recently in reply to a question the Minister stated, "When deployed in an ATCP role, Defence Forces personnel remain under the operational command of a Defence Forces officer at all times." He has said this again today. In the response he also stated, "For security and operational reasons, it is not considered appropriate to make any further comment in relation to how such operations are conducted." Does this mean that he believes there are security risks associated with defending US military aircraft at Shannon Airport? If so, are members of the security forces made aware of the risks involved in defending these military aircraft?

Deputy Simon Coveney: I am not quite sure what risks the Deputy is talking about. Certainly, when An Garda Síochána seeks assistance from the Defence Forces on security arrangements at Shannon Airport, it gets it. The assistance comes in the form of Permanent Defence Force personnel under the control of the senior officer performing the tasks they are being asked to perform by An Garda Síochána. As I stated, it is the role of the Defence Forces personnel to perform the tasks they are being asked to perform. I am not quite sure what the Deputy is getting at. I am not trying to be evasive, but I am just trying to understand what he is getting at. This is a security operation to provide security for aeroplanes landing, refuelling and taking off at Shannon Airport. When An Garda Síochána needs the assistance of the Defence Forces, it gets it. It is no more complicated than that.

Mick Wallace:  I was surprised when the Minister said that, for security and operational reasons, he did not consider it appropriate to make any further comment on how such operations were conducted. It goes without saying there is considerable confusion about roles and responsibilities. Does the person in charge from the Defence Forces have the authority to decide to inspect an aircraft? Alternatively, would the Minister say Garda personnel have greater authority on the platform at Shannon Airport? Can they actually decide to inspect an aircraft if they believe there is a good reason to do so?

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I am not going to answer the question for An Garda Síochána which is the lead organisation in terms of security within the State. When it needs assistance in performing its role, it asks for it and gets it from the Defence Forces. However, the task the Defence Forces are asked to perform by An Garda Síochána is managed operationally by the senior officer of the Defence Forces on site. That is my understanding of how it works. The duty of making the actual request and overall responsibility lie with An Garda Síochána.

Mick Wallace:  Can the Defence Forces take charge of the security of an aeroplane without Garda personnel being present? We understand from a recent court case in Ennis, taken by the State, that An Garda Síochána was not allowed to exercise discretion at Shannon Airport and that if, for any reason, it suspected an aeroplane needed to be inspected, it was not allowed to do so.

The gardaí were not allowed to use their own discretion as they would on the street. They were compelled to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This came as a surprise to us.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl and Deputy Durkan raised the issue of the Russian plane and what we should be worried about coming through our airspace. Were these people remotely interested in the EC130 Hercules which was armed and landed in Shannon? Are they remotely worried about the incredible security risk to the

Irish people of seriously heavy armoury coming through Shannon?
With regard to the role of terrorists, since the end of the Second World War the US military machine has created more terrorism on the planet than the rest of the planet put together. We are allowing these people to use Shannon and we do not seem to have a problem with it yet we are worried about a Russian aircraft flying down by the west coast. Give us a break. What would the Russians be doing invading us?

Deputy Simon Coveney:  We need to try to have a calm response to these things. I will not answer on behalf of An Garda Síochána, which is under the political responsibility of a different Minister. Our role, in the Defence Forces, is to respond to specific tasks when asked for assistance by An Garda Síochána. We then manage and operationally take control of these tasks through a senior officer in the performing of those tasks. It is no more complicated than that.
There are broader issues and I know Deputy Wallace has a strong difference of opinion with me and with the Department on these issues. However, they are separate issues. My responsibility, as Minister for Defence, is to account for the actions of the Permanent Defence Force when it is operationally asked to perform certain tasks by An Garda Síochána, which it does very professionally.

Mick Wallace:  Can the Defence Forces monitor the plane without An Garda Síochána being there?

Deputy Simon Coveney:  My understanding is that An Garda Síochána asks for assistance with a particular task and it is this task which the Defence Forces personnel operate. It does not, on its own initiative, then decide to do a whole series of other things like inspect planes.

 

Mick Wallace.

 

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