A few of us have persistently challenged the Tánaiste Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, on the illegal use of Shannon by the United States military, but the Tánaiste has consistently engaged in denial. Last week it was ‘revealed’ by the Tánaiste that an American military aircraft sporting a fixed weapon, landed and refuelled at Shannon Airport on September 5th. I say ‘revealed’ as the revelation came in answer to a written question from Galway East TD Derek Nolan, a party colleague of the Minister, who has previously shown very little interest in the issue of Irish neutrality or in the use of Shannon Airport to facilitate the United States imperial war machine. The whole episode does seem to have a strong dimension of Government spin to it. - And surprise, surprise, the mainstream media are glad to be compliant.
An AC130W is a modified transport aircraft. It is modified by the addition of a 30mm autocannon, a rapid fire shell launching system that is often armed with depleted uranium capped incendiary or explosive rounds, and a laser guided missile launching system, with each missile containing 13 pounds of explosive and a blast fragmentation warhead, which upon detonation liberally sprays a small area with shards of superheated metal. According to the manufacturer, Raytheon, this missile is designed for ‘urban environments’. Depleted Uranium, which is used in the 30mm shells fired by the autocannon, has been linked to legacy cancers in the Balkans and Iraq as a result of the radioactivity of this material.
Such an aircraft is used to provide ground support to Special Operations teams operated by the US in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and recently in Libya. As detailed in the writings of journalist Jeremy Scahill in The Nation and on Democracy Now!, these missions frequently end in the loss of civilian lives, due to poor intelligence gathering techniques, liberal target selection policies, and the US military’s long running attachment to high tech firepower. Despite the claims of its adherents, a piece of flying artillery cannot be classified as a precision or discriminating weapon.
This is surely not the first time that a US combat aircraft has made use of the facilities at Shannon. As yet unconfirmed reports speak of several A10 Warthog ‘tankbuster’ type aircraft refueling at Shannon. As these aircraft are constructed around a six barrelled anti tank gun, which cannot be easily removed, it is likely that further ‘fixed weapon’ episodes have taken place, as yet unrevealed to the public.
If the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs wishes to give the Irish people, 80% of whom support military neutrality according to a recent RedC poll, some measure of reassurance that Ireland is not collaborating with controversial wars against some of the poorest nations on the planet, the Minister could ensure that Ireland’s neutrality would be respected by ordering random searches of US military aircraft to ensure that they are abiding by the conditions agreed for the use of Shannon Airport, but this he will not do, despite his own statements prior to the General Election of 2011 that the Labour Party would introduce new laws subjecting US military transports to ‘proper inspection by Irish authorities’.
Any one for some accountability? Or transparency? Or is it too much to ask…?