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Earlier this week, Mick questioned Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on the use of Shannon airport by US forces as a stopover point for extraordinary rendition; he asked if the Tánaiste accepted the evidence presented by Amnesty International and others in relation to this matter and called on the government to initiate an enquiry into the State’s participation in this illegal activity. See below for the transcript or watch the exchange in full by clicking here. The debate was also featured on RTE's Oireachtas Report which you can watch here (15 minutes in).

Eamon Gilmore: The programme for Government states that “we will enforce the prohibition on the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with international law”. I have placed on record on numerous occasions my abhorrence at the illegal activity known as extraordinary rendition. There is no evidence that Shannon or any other Irish airport has ever been used for this purpose. There is no basis whatsoever for the Deputy’s suggestion that the State has participated in this illegal activity. Under our legislation, no transfer of prisoners may take place without the permission of the Irish authorities. Furthermore, the United States has provided assurances at the highest level that it would not transport prisoners through Irish airspace without seeking our permission. I assure the Deputy that no permission has been sought or granted in respect of any case of extraordinary rendition and, equally, that such permission would never be granted.

We understand that a small number of commercially leased aircraft which have been involved in legitimate commercial activities have also been involved, at various times, in activities relating to extraordinary renditions. However, there is no evidence to suggest that they were carrying prisoners at any time when they transited through Irish airports. Should the Deputy or any other person be in possession of evidence which suggests that Irish airports have been used for the purpose of extraordinary rendition, I would urge them to bring this to the attention of the Garda Síochána.

Mick Wallace: I remind the Tánaiste that in June 2006 he said that the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Committee Against Torture and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had all indicated that:

[I]t is insufficient to accept the diplomatic assurances of another state that nothing illegal was happening on planes being used and chartered by the CIA, which are going through Irish airports. There is a positive obligation on the State to investigate, inspect, send gardaí on board, and establish independently that the law of this country, international law and the Convention on Human Rights are being upheld, and that nobody is being transported through an Irish airport or through Irish airspace to undergo [torture].

Does the Minister still not think it would be a good idea for us to check the planes? When he was in opposition he was not as convinced that everything was above board. If there was even a 1% suspicion that people were bringing drugs into the country we would be keen to inspect the planes, and we would be right to do so. We should also inspect these.

Eamon Gilmore: We have a procedure in place. It is not just a question of accepting assurances. There is a procedure in place whereby if prisoners are to be transported through any of our airports, the permission of the Irish Government must be sought and obtained. No such permission has been sought or granted and I have made it absolutely clear that under no circumstances will we grant permission for the transport of prisoners who are subject to extraordinary rendition. 

Mick Wallace: The chances of the Americans asking us for permission to bring through prisoners who they will torture are pretty slim. We have seen what has gone on Guantanamo Bay where only a handful of people have been convicted despite the numbers held in custody. I draw the Minister’s attention to a comment by President Michael D. Higgins in December 2010, only 14 months ago. He stated:

The disclosure that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, was ‘quite convinced’ that Shannon Airport had been used on at least three occasions by aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition of prisoners strongly reinforces the case for a change in the law to ensure that Irish airports are not used in this way and that any such aircraft are subject to proper inspection by the Irish authorities.

On the previous occasions Tánaiste Gilmore told me that the law is very robust in respect of control of airspace. Why did President Higgins%2 aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition of prisoners strongly reinforces the case for a change in the law to ensure that Irish airports are not used in this way and that any such aircraft are subject to proper inspection by the Irish authorities.

On the previous occasions Tánaiste Gilmore told me that the law is very robust in respect of control of airspace. Why did President Higgins, when he was a Labour Party Deputy, propose legislation to close the loopholes in Irish legislation to ensure rendition flights could no longer be possible if the Labour Party now believes everything is grand?

Eamon Gilmore: Rendition flights are not possible. They are illegal. The use of our airports for rendition purposes would be illegal. If any country wants to transport prisoners through our airports, they must seek permission from the State. As I stated, no such permission has been sought or granted and no such permission will be granted in the case of possible rendition.

Mick Wallace: Why did President Higgins suggest it when he was a Deputy? The Minister did not answer my question.

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