Presentation to PANA AGM by John Lannon, Shannonwatch

Thanks to PANA for inviting me to speak at their 2009 AGM on behalf of Shannonwatch. Shannon Airport is the embodiment of the erosion of Irish neutrality and of Irish involvement in the business of global warfare. Sadly a large share of its business now is US military stopovers, although Ireland claims to be a neutral country. A state that has had a proud tradition of peacekeeping with the UN is now trying to profit from immoral and unnecessary wars. But offsetting the loss of commercial traffic – due to the ending of the Shannon stopover, the downturn in the global aviation industry, and other factors – with war traffic is not something we can or will ever accept.

Since the start of this decade – soon after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers & Pentagon - the Irish government has made Shannon available to the US government. Its not the first time this happened – the US were also allowed to use Shannon during the 1991 Gulf War (bombers were seen at Shannon, en route to Iraq). But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the Irish government stepped up its support for the imperialist warmongering and allowed them to use Shannon as a refueling stopover. As a result the majority of soldiers being transported between the US and Iraq for most of this decade have passed through Ireland.

We know also that Shannon has been used by the CIA as part of its so-called extraordinary renditions policy (a sanitised name for kidnapping and torture). This has been well documented by Amnesty International, the European Parliament and others. It breaches international human rights norms as well as Irish law – in particular the Criminal Justice Act – UN Convention Against Torture) 2000.

For those of you who don’t know us, Shannonwatch is a group of peace and human rights activists based in the mid-west of Ireland. In the proud tradition of Irish anti-war protest, we continue to hold weekly protest vigils on the second Sunday of every month. We also do continuous monitoring of all military flights in and out of Shannon and through Irish airspace. Summaries are available on our website www.shannonwatch.org.

We work with media people who are still interested in investigating the cover-ups around Shannon, and with supportive politicians, to get to the truth of what is really going on in our “civilian” airport. Ultimately we want accountability from our government for the millions of lives we have helped destroy; for becoming part of an imperialist military power block driven by greed for energy resources; for the manner in which they took control of Irish foreign policy away from the people. And for the years of human rights abuse we have condoned & supported, and for the fact that we have covertly violated international and Irish law for most of this decade. We want it to end, and to ensure that it never happens again.

We often speculate about the real role Shannon has played in the wars of George Bush, in the renditions networks, and is now playing in Obama’s Afghanistan war. And about what deals have been done with the Americans in years past to give them open access to our runways. But we don’t even need to speculate – the known facts speak for themselves. Here are some of these facts:

  • There are an average of 20 landings per week by airline contracted to carry US troops to/from Iraq. Over 1,000 US soldiers wander wide-eyed around the duty free lounges every week. Omni Air International is the carrier … there are usually one or two there everyday.
  • There are 20, 30 … sometimes 40 USAF / navy planes per month at the airport. These include in-flight refueling aircraft, executive jets and transport jet aircraft such as Boeing 737’s. They also included Hercules C-130 military transport aircraft, typically used to deliver weapons and other equipment to areas of military operations. They are capable, for example, of transporting the robotic Predator drone aircraft used by the US Air Force to track and hit targets from the air in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Tuesday last for example – the last day I have data to hand for – there was a USAF DC9 and a Gulfstream 4 at the airport.
  • We’ve logged known and suspect rendition planes at the airport. N54PA, N379P, N71PG … these have all become familiar to those of us monitoring the airport activity. Regular requests have been made over the years to inspect these but the requests have been ignored; no action has ever been taken - except to arrest the ones asking for the inspections in some cases. And we continue to see known or suspect rendition planes at Shannon; in the last couple of months we’ve had 2 in particular - N478GS and N71PG.
  • There are weekly flights by Murray Air (a subsidiary of National Airlines) carrying cargo to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. One of their planes, N872SJ, was there this week already. The true nature of their cargo is never made known to us – and we don’t know if it is properly declared to the Irish authorities.
  • Kalitta Air – an airline that was found to be covertly transporting laser-guided bunker busters through Prestwick a couple of years ago – uses Shannon from time to time. One landed at the airport a few days before last Christmas when the Israeli Defence Forces were receiving new supplies of white phosphorus. Again we don’t know what its cargo was.
  • Some of you may remember the airline Evergreen International … well on 4 Nov, an Evergreen International Boing 742 reg number N488EV landed at Shannon. Origin and Destination unknown. Again cargo unknown. This is a civilian aircraft and as such it requires permission from the Minister for Transport to land if it is carrying munitions of war. Note: Civil aviation standards are governed by the provisions of the Chicago Convention, established in 1944, and Ireland is one of the signatories. Article 35 of this Convention states that “no munitions of war may be carried in or above the territory of a State in aircraft engaged in international navigation, except by permission of such State”. The provisions of the Convention have been put into law in Ireland through the Air Navigation and Transport Act (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods).
  • We have 2 US officers of military rank stationed at the airport. And the Irish army and Gardai provide security for many of the planes of the US military or their contractors. This once again shows the level to which our neutrality has been compromised.

We were pleased to have had two conferences organised by PANA and the IAWM at Shannon in 2009. These recognised the importance of the airport issue in the debates around neutrality, Lisbon and so on, and reminded people that we too are guilty for the loss of many, many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shannonwatch looks forward to continuing to work with PANA, the Irish Anti War Movement and others in 2010, to keep drawing attention to Irish complicity in war and human rights abuse at Shannon. We will continue the monitoring and publishing of flight data, and the monthly vigils (2nd Sunday of the month from 2pm – 3pm) will remain in place until the soldiers and the torturers are gone, or there is no-one left to protest. Together we will ensure that it is the former – and not the latter – that brings the protests to an end!