Ministerial Merry-go-round and Double-speak about Shannon

The last few months has seen ongoing refusals by government Ministers to answer about the US military use of Shannon. Three ministers, Simon Coveney (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade), Shane Ross (Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport) and Charlie Flanagan (Minister for Justice and Equality) have all shown clearly that they intend to avoid providing proper information to their fellow TDs and those of us in civil society who demand answers. Here's a sample of what we've got from them since October.

Minister Ross (don't ask me, I've no answers)

On 23rd October last, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, confirmed that Shannon Airport confirmed that five aircraft, registration numbers N207AX, N342AX, N351AX, N477AX and N819AX, landed in Shannon Airport on the 10th of October 2018. All of these were on contract to the US military.

He said that these stops were classified as "technical stops in accordance with the Second Freedom of the Air as allowed for by the 1944 International Air Services Transit Agreement". All of the aircraft were granted exemptions to carry munitions of war by his Department in accordance with the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Orders, 1973 and 1989.

He then went on to say

"Decisions whether to grant permission for the use of landing and refuelling facilities at Shannon Airport in respect of such aircraft take into account the views of other relevant government departments and are fully consistent with Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality, as applied by successive Irish Governments for over 50 years."

There are a few things wrong with that:

  1. Ireland's traditional policy is one of neutrality. It is not one that can be described by the more recently contrived concept of "military neutrality".
  2. Even something called "military neutrality" which the Department of Foreign Affairs  say "is characterised by non-membership of military alliances" should not condone the routine stop-off of aircraft contracted to a foreign military power.
  3. The policy being followed now is not "as applied by successive Irish Governments for over 50 years." In 2002, the Irish government took a decision to provide landing and refuelling facilities to the US military at the airport following UN Security Council Resolution 1368 which the US exploited to claim legitimacy for its illegal invasion of Afghanistan. The decision was necessary because it was a change in policy. And the changed policy has remained in place since then.

The Minister also said that his Department was not in a position to supply the number of troops carried as passengers per flight.

This surprised us, since his Department have been providing details of the number of troops passing through Shannon on an annual and monthly basis since 2002.

So Clare Daly asked him for the basis upon which he provides figures of monthly or annual troop movements in view of the fact that his Department is not in a position to supply the number of troops carried as passengers per flight.

His answer:

"For statistics relating to passengers movements through Irish Airports, including military personnel, my Department would generally rely on statistics collated and provided by the airport concerned, in this case the Shannon Airport Authority."

So the Shannon Airport Authority which is a public limited company, responsible for the management, operations and development of Shannon Airport, and under the aegis of Minister Ross's department has statistics on troop movements through the airport. The Minister normally provides those when requested. But in this case of the Oct 23rd planes he either could not or would not provide the numbers. And we don't know why.

Minister Coveney (the new double-speak)

In another development, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney treated us to some new euphemisms for supporting war. When asked by Clare Daly TD about an Omni Air aircraft registration N477AX that passed through Shannon Airport on 4 February 2019 en route to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, he said that his Department

"recommends against the carriage of munitions, with exceptions made for unloaded personal weapons or those intended for international crisis management and peace support operations."

The Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport had granted permission for the carriage of munitions on this particular US military contracted flight to Djibouti. But considering the fact that the aircraft was on its way to a US airbase used to support the Saudi Arabian and Emirati war against Yemen there appears to have been very little oversight of why the munitions of war were going to Djibouti. All the Minister said was that "my Department was asked for and duly provided its observations in accordance with that policy" - meaning the policy of only supporting "international crisis management and peace support operations".

In other words Simon Coveney is pretending that what the US military do from its military bases around the world is international crisis management and peace support operations. Nothing else.

A search of the Dáil record shows the Department of Defence started to use the term crisis management around 2016.  It appears to come straight out of the EU's Common Defence and Security Policy phrasebook; since the end of the last decade they have been talking about the deployment of troops in places like Chad as "crisis management operations." Our Department of Foreign Affairs now appears to be jumping on that bandwagon and are attempting to blur the lines between peacekeeping and more belligerent action by referring to the latter as "crisis management".

Clare persisted. She asked the Minister about the meaning of weapons intended for use used in international crisis management and peace support operations, and if examples of exemptions granted in such circumstances over the past two decades will be provided by the international crisis management event and peace support operation in question.

After some usual preamble about who is responsible for what, he said his Department's provision of advice about permits to carry munitions through Shannon or Ireland "is guided by and accords with Ireland's longstanding policy of military neutrality". As such, he said his Department generally recommends against granting exemptions to carry munitions of war except for flights carrying troops and their unloaded personal weapons or for those intended for use in international crisis management and peace support operations.

The same repeated story.

He did go on to say that while it is not the practice to comment on individual applications,

"... instances of where my Department has not provided a negative recommendation over the last two decades include an application in 2009 for carriage of munitions destined for the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Chad and similar applications in 2014, 2016 and 2017 for equipment in support of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Lebanon.

Let's rephrase that bit about not providing a negative recommendation. What he's saying is that his department recommended approval of an application in 2009 for carriage of munitions destined for the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Chad.

But he also emphasised that the decision to authorise or refuse applications for exemptions is a matter for the Minster for Transport, Tourism and Sport. This is standard practice -

The Ministerial Triple Act (tell them nothing)

In late February Clare Daly TD again asked Minister Ross about the Omni Air aircraft registration N477AX that passed through Shannon Airport on 4 February 2019 en route to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. This was a US military contracted plane as opposed to a military plane operated by the US Air Force, etc. She asked him for

  • details of the type and amounts of munitions he approved for transit on the plane
  • the reason he approved this aircraft and these munitions to transit through Shannon Airport and Irish air space.

She pointed out that that international laws on neutrality prohibit the transport of soldiers or munitions or other war materials by belligerents through a neutral state, not only using military transport, but using any form of transport; that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade only allows US military aircraft to transit through Irish airports and Irish airspace provided that they are not carrying arms or munitions, and are not engaged in military exercises or military operations; and that Camp Lemonier in Djibouti is the main US base used by the US for launching special forces and drone attacks and targeted assassinations in Yemen and Somalia.

The Minister didn't seem to care. Here's his full response:

"This particular civil aircraft was granted an exemption for the carriage of munitions of war in respect of the personal weapons of the troops on board with no ammunition present pursuant to Article 5 of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Orders, 1973 and 1989.

This exemption was granted as it met with the requirements for the grant of exemptions administered by my Department.  No objections were raised by the Departments consulted as a part of the application process.

Matters relating to Ireland's policy of neutrality are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade".

Or to paraphrase the Minister: "I gave them a permit to take weapons through. And I'm not going to explain why."

Clare Daly also asked Simon, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about it, since (as Minister Shane said) it's really his responsibility.

Guess what his reply was? Yes, you guessed it - consistent with our policy, international crisis management, exception for personal weapons (unloaded of course), ...

"Consistent with our stated policy my Department recommends against the carriage of munitions, with exceptions made for unloaded personal weapons or those intended for international crisis management and peace support operations."

Shannonwatch and Clare Daly have both become curious about this new use of CDSP terminology to cover up our complicity in war. She asked another Minister, Charlie Flanagan who has responsibility for Justice and Equality, if his policy in regard to advice relating to the Air Navigation (Carriage of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 and the carriage of munitions has been changed in the past twelve months. She asked if his Department now recommends that exceptions be made for the carriage of munitions intended to be used in international crisis management and peace support operations, in addition to exemptions for unloaded personal weapons of US troops.

He first explained what we and Clare already knew:

"In processing applications for airlines wishing to carry weapons or munitions through Irish airspace or airports, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport seeks the views of my Department in relation to security issues."

He then went on to dismiss the question:

"I can inform the Deputy that there has been no change in the past twelve months in the Department's policy as regards such requests."

No explanations. No engagement. No consultation.

And Finally, The Ongoing Review ...

Speaking of consultation the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are supposed to be conducting an "internal" review of the Air Navigation (Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Orders 1973 and 1989. The Minister (Ross) thinks its fine really. In answer to a question about it, he said "The provisions of the order and the associated administrative arrangements have been largely effective over many years". But there may be room for improvement: "The potential to improve all processing systems naturally exists, and this is the primary purpose of the internal review" (both from answer to parliamentary question on 12th Feb.

This improvement is going to come from "examining the above orders from both an administrative and legislative perspective". It is currently being finalised in consultation with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, according to the Minister. And he understands that the draft report "includes a number of recommendations designed to deliver a more efficient and effective processing system, with a view to reducing the administrative burden on the Department".

You will notice that there is no reference to making it easier to detect the illegal transportation of weapons through Shannon. Or to check if the weapons are likely to be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuse. These are not things the government is at all interested in.

In fact the opposite is likely to be the case. A "more efficient and effective processing system" sounds like a way to make it easier to run troops and weapons through the airport.

We had asked for a more comprehensive review with other external stakeholders involved but this was not granted. Instead we've got another covert exercise in facilitating US military use of Shannon Airport and Irish airspace, supported by persistent Ministerial refusal to provide any meaningful answers to the questions asked. 

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