More Ministerial Confusion over Sovereign Immunity

More Ministerial Confusion over Sovereign Immunity

Our Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore is finding it difficult to explain what sovereign immunity means in the context of the US military use of Shannon. Despite being asked a series of direct questions on the issue by Clare Daly TD, he repeated the mantra that it "is recognised as applying in respect of foreign state or military aircraft". But he didnt say what that means. (See Dáil debate on Military Aircraft Landings here)

Gilmore also seems to have redefined the concept of neutrality. In answering the questions in the Dáil he said that Ireland's policy of neutrality was characterised by "non-participation in military alliances". In other words supporting military alliances is ok with his brand of neutrality.

In fact what he was describing is non-belligerence. Even if Ireland is not taking part militarily in wars being fought by the US or NATO, it is providing support for them at Shannon. Therefore it isn't neutral.

Of course Gilmore will also know that Ireland cannot even claim to be non-belligerent since it has spent million of euros deploying military personnel to the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

But back to the matter of sovereign immunity. Clearly Ministers Gilmore and Shatter either don't know or won't tell us what its implications are for foreign military use of our airports. Last week Shatter said "the Garda Síochána has no role in relation to the inspection of foreign State or military aircraft which, in accordance with international law, enjoy sovereign immunity". This week he said "The Gardai do of course have powers in relation to aircraft which are not subject to immunity." (See parliamentary questions 727 here and 514 here, both on on Military Aircraft Landings).

Does this mean some military aircraft are subject to sovereign immunity and others are not? And if so, which ones are and which are not?

As Gilmore pointed out, there is a requirement on any country wishing to land a military aircraft in Ireland or overfly Irish airspace to apply to him as Minister for Foreign Affairs for permission. But in practice this seems to be no more than a rubber stamp, an ongoing routine exercise in supporting US war efforts. Even though they land military aircraft with mounted 30mm cannon (as they did on Sept 5th) Gilmore still continues to grant permission, while telling us that all the aircraft are unarmed, not carrying arms, ammunition or explosives, not engaged in intelligence gathering and not taking part in military exercises or operations.

Does the Minister ever ask what the US military planes are carrying? We don't know, but we suspect he doesn't. And do the authorities ever do some checks to see if they are complying with the "unarmed, not carrying arms etc." requirements? We know they don't ... if they did there is no reason not to tell us.

Finally for now we also discovered from Gilmore's answers that we can expect to see more Canadian military aircraft at Shannon from now on. This is probably linked to their phases withdrawal from Afghanistan which began in October. 

Once again, Gilmore and the Department of Foreign Affairs are more than willing to help a NATO ally.

Oh wait, that can't be true, can it? We're not members of NATO ... we're "neutral".