3 September 2009
3 September 2009
Information provided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs sheds disturbing new light on US military use of Shannon Airport. According to the Minister the troop and air force crews that pass through the airport are not the only US military there. There are also two US officers of military rank permanently based in the airport. Their official role is to assist with the transit of US Government and Government contracted flights. The arrangement has been in operation since 2003 and was done without Oireachtas approval.
Shannonwatch, a group of human rights and anti-war activists based in the mid-West of Ireland, who work with the Irish Anti war Movement, say that the presence of these officers at Shannon raises serious questions about US military activities at the airport. “The need to have US military personnel stationed at an Irish airport, and the constitutionality of the covert decision to allow this, must be questioned” said the group’s spokesperson. “What is so special about the cargo and personnel on board the US government planes that they cannot be handled by the normal airport procedures and personnel? Are the US military officers there on the ground to ensure that local staff do not see dangerous munitions or even prisoners on board the planes?”
In reply to a parliamentary question from Jan O’Sullivan TD, the Minister said that the two officials concerned are based in Shannon because “they are engaged in assisting with the transit of US Government or Government-contracted flights carrying US government officials, civilian and military personnel and cargo through Shannon Airport”. He went on to say that they liaise with the Irish authorities in relation to flight notifications and permissions through the US Embassy in Dublin. “They also liaise directly with the airport and other authorities in Shannon on technical and logistical issues that arise in relation to transiting aircraft or their passengers” according to the minister.
The officers were notified to the Department of Foreign Affairs by the US Embassy under Article 10 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as incorporated into Irish law by the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967. The minister’s reply to Deputy O’Sullivan indicated that the stationing of the two US officials in Shannon is not governed by a specific formal agreement.
“This seems to be at odds with the Irish constitution” said the Shannonwatch spokesperson. “Article 15.6 clearly states that no military or armed force, other than a military or armed force raised and maintained by the Oireachtas, shall be raised or maintained for any purpose whatsoever on Irish soil. If the US can inform the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs that the have stationed two officers of military rank at a civilian Irish airport and not have this questioned or authorized, what’s to stop them from stationing a whole armed battalion there? Furthermore, since no formal authorization has been given for this arrangement it means that the Irish government has effectively relinquished sovereignty to the US government.”
The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) have also expressed their concern over this issue. “The presence of US military personnel stationed at Shannon airport and the transit of US troops and munitions is in breach of the Hague Convention V on Neutrality” said a PANA spokesperson. The organization intends to contact the minister to raise the further concern that these officers may at times be armed, and to ask if there are circumstances in which they might fire lethal weapons in the civilian airport.
The Minister has said that the arrangement which has applied since 2003 operates “to the convenience and satisfaction of both the Irish and US authorities”. He considers it to be proportionate to the present level of US government air traffic through Shannon.
This level of US military traffic through Shannon is far in excess of what most Irish people might expect. Shannonwatch have recorded landings of a staggering 1051 commercial airlines carrying US troops or cargo in the 12 months up to 31 August of this year. During the same period 330 US military planes were recorded at the airport. These included in-flight refueling aircraft, executive jets and transport jet aircraft such as Boeing 737’s. They also included 58 Hercules C-130 military transport aircraft, typically used to deliver weapons and other military 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.
Commercial airline companies such as Omni Air International, Kalitta Air and National Airlines all use Shannon airport on US military business. They routinely receive Irish army or Garda protection while on the ground, and questions as to the real nature of their cargo or destination go unanswered. The US government ands its contractors seem to have carte-blanche to take whatever and whoever it likes through