Irish Government - Ignoring the Will of the People

The lengths to which the Fianna Fail lead Irish governments of the last decade have systematically ignored public opinion in relation to U.S. military and CIA use of Shannon airport is laid bare by the recent Wikileak cables from the Dublin U.S. Embassy. While not surprising it is nonetheless hugely disturbing to see how those charged with implementing the will of the people and upholding their rights give precedence to the global war industry, to powerful external interests, and to their own political survival.

One of the Dublin embassy cables informs us that "The Irish Government consistently has acted to ensure continued U.S. military transits at Shannon in the face of public criticism". Another refers to how the then minister for foreign affairs, Dermot Ahern "tamped down the public reaction to a report of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) on extraordinary renditions". The report called for inspections of suspected rendition planes, and Ahern knew that Shannon was being used as a stopover by rendition aircraft. In fact he was “quite convinced” that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere according to the same embassy cable.

Ahern and his government colleagues have consistently refused to heed calls from national and international bodies for an investigation into abuse of Ireland’s airports and airspace by the CIA. They have also failed to take any preventative measures to guard against further abuse. Instead they have hidden behind so-called “assurances” from the U.S. Government. The then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern even told us in 2006 that he “looked at the great President Bush and said to him, I wanted to be sure, to be sure, and he assured me”.

The assurances of a man who oversaw and condoned torture was enough for the Irish government to turn a blind eye to human rights abuse.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations from the Wikileaks cables relating to Shannon is Dermot Ahern’s suggestion to the U.S. officials that it might not be a bad idea to allow the random inspection of a few planes to proceed, in order to provide cover if a rendition flight ever surfaced. His didn’t want inspections that might discover any evidence of kidnapping and torture. He wasn’t interested in stopping such grave human rights abuse. No, what he wanted was cover – cover for the U.S. torture networks, cover for a weak Irish government, and cover for his own political career.

One would assume that Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs (and soon afterwards Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform) knew that most of the planes he wanted the U.S. to allow him to inspect did not declare themselves as diplomatic or military flights. Therefore U.S. permission was not required in order to have the planes inspected by the Gardai.

Today Bertie Ahern, the man assured by George Bush, is still an elected public representative but he has effectively turned his back on political life in favour of lucrative lecture opportunities and tabloid journalism. Dermot Ahern, the man who ran to the U.S. officials looking for cover, has announced his retirement from politics and will walk away from his years in government with a lump sum payment and pension far in excess of what he needs or deserves. So too will another of his cabinet colleagues who colluded to hide the truth about Shannon. As Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey was responsible for the granting of permits for the transportation of munitions of war through Shannon and Irish airspace. When asked in January 2010 to give details of the permits granted and where the munitions were destined for, he quite bizarrely claimed that “the final destination of these flights would not necessarily be known by my Department”. Once again, open and accountable government fell foul to the interests of the global war industry.

Let us not forget the complicity of Green Party ministers in the cover-up and dishonesty around Shannon. In 2002, John Gormley, who was then an outspoken opposition TD, said that Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen had done more to dismantle Irish neutrality than any other minister. At the time he said he believed that it was unethical and unjust to attack the people of Iraq. “I believe the majority of Irish people share that view", he said. But as they sat together at the Cabinet table Minister Gormley seemed to forgive the man who became his boss in government for selling out on Ireland’s neutrality. And despite credible reports indicating over 100,000 civilian deaths as a result of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, John Gormley was clearly willing to be part of a government that ignored the will of the people and allowed Shannon to be part of the unethical and unjust occupation of Iraq.

Thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks we are getting closer to the disturbing truth about U.S. hegemonic distain for other nations. We are also learning about the corruption and dishonesty of other governments, including the Irish government.  And we are finding out that most of these governments are prepared to act in contradiction of their freedom of expression and freedom of information rhetoric, in order to hide the truth.

There is one positive note in the cables released so far however. In 2006, U.S. officials in Dublin were worried that “any incident […] that becomes the cause for a public debate about the U.S. use of Shannon will likely add pressure on the Government.” It may not be a cause for celebration but it confirms that there is something to be gained from continued campaigning and action at Shannon.


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