ALMOST €10 million has been spent in just three years on protecting US troops passing through Shannon airport on their way to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Arial View of Shannon Airport
Department of Justice figures show the cost of providing Garda security at the airport was €8.6m between 2006 and 2008. This includes €2.8m on Garda overtime, more than €1m in expenses and subsistence claims by the gardaí and €4.8m in salaries.
During the same period, the cost of army patrols at the airport was €964,702, according to Defence Minister Willie O’Dea, bringing the total cost of security at the airport to close to €10m.
The latest figures show more than 243,000 US troops passed through Shannon airport in 2009 – or 665 per day. This brings to more than one million the number of military who used the airport en route to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of 2006.
Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín O Caoláin said the cost to the taxpayer is a "disgraceful situation" and something that should be properly debated in the Dáil.
He said the use of Shannon was "totally and absolutely opposed by the overwhelming majority of Irish people who do not accept the legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan".
The movement of troops is estimated to have been worth around €7m to the airport in 2009.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said it is too early to say if there will be any impact on the airport caused by the recent decision by US President Barack Obama to deploy an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2010.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the annual bill of more than €3m was justified.
"The deployment of Garda resources is based on an assessment by the Garda authorities of the measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of personnel, staff, passengers and property at Shannon airport," said Mr Ahern.
Anti-war protesters claim the use of Shannon airport by US troops undermines Ireland’s neutrality. But the Government argues that the missions are being carried out under a UN mandate.
The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) has criticised the Government’s response to the escalation of US military personnel numbers in Afghanistan.
PANA chairman Roger Cole said Ireland has become a "vassal state" of the "American empire".
"These wars must be stopped now, and the termination of the use of Shannon airport by the US troops is a key step towards peace and economic stability," he added.
PANA held the first anti-war demonstration at Shannon airport in 2002 and has been involved in many protests since then.
Mr Cole said: "While it is the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Pakistan that have suffered most from the wars of the American empire and its vassal states like Ireland, the ordinary American family is being impoverished by its militarist neo-liberal agenda."
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, January 04, 2010