Shannonwatch Welcomes Oireachtas Petitions Committee Visit to Shannon

Shannonwatch welcomes the visit to Shannon Airport by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. The visit which took place on October 2nd was a follow-up to a petition by Shannonwatch earlier this year. The petition called for the Government to investigate the use of Shannon Airport and Irish airspace for the transit of US armed troops, munitions and other war material, as well as for the refuelling of CIA-associated aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition.

During their visit to Shannon, representatives of the Committee met with members of the Gardai including Chief Superintendent John Kerin and with airport officials before meeting again with Shannonwatch. They were informed that about 40,000 US troops had gone through Shannon so far this year. However Shannonwatch understands that airport officials said that US troops were not essential to the economics of Shannon Airport as they contribute relatively little, and that civilian passengers contribute far more with shopping, car parking and so on.

Amongst the topics covered in a constructive meeting between Shannonwatch representative Edward Horgan and the Committee were the non-searching of US military aircraft, and past indications from Gardai that the Attorney General had issued advice not to search suspected rendition planes.

"We had a long discussion on issue of Gardai searching or non-searching of US military and military chartered aircraft" said Mr Horgan. "Gardai continue to insist on needing a warrant from a judge to search chartered troop carriers, and it is even suggested that international diplomatic laws forbids them from searching US military aircraft. We have never received an adequate explanation of the legal basis for such claims".

Shannonwatch asked the Oireachtas Committee to seek clarification of exactly what laws the government is referring to when it talks about sovereign immunity and chairperson Padraig MacLochlainn TD undertook to follow up on this.

Shannonwatch also raised the fact that military planes and chartered "civilian" troop carriers are treated differently and pointed out that both are bound by international laws on neutrality. "We also pointed out the direct contradiction in government policies when they continue to declare a policy of neutrality while being in gross breach of international laws on neutrality. We recommended that the Committee should consult an international law expert on neutrality and they agreed.  Matters of policy are primarily a matter for legislators rather than Gardai."

"The issue of whether or not a former Attorney General issued advice that suspect rendition aircraft, and maybe even US military aircraft, should not be searched has not yet been adequately addressed." said Mr Horgan. "If such advice was ever given it would be a very serious matter, and for that reason it needs to be fully investigated."

Prior to the Committee's visit to Shannon Padraig MacLochlainn noted that Shannonwatch have also made serious claims that complaints or requests made to Gardaí at Shannon have not been followed up. He went on to say that "The series of meetings on the ground in Shannon tomorrow will assist the Committee in following up this controversial issue. We will also be able to assess first-hand Shannonwatch's call for an independent inquiry in relation to what they perceive as the failure to investigate aircraft suspected to be involved in illegal rendition."

During the meeting Shannonwatch's Edward Horgan noted that while legal issues such as neutrality are important, the reality that Ireland has been facilitating wars in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people including children are being killed, while failing in our constitutional and moral responsibilities to promote international peace and justice, is of greater importance. "We will not allow our government or the Gardai to ignore that fact" said Mr Horgan.

Shannonwatch are organising a large demonstration at Shannon Airport on October 12th at 2pm. It is being supported by peace and anti-war groups from around Ireland, and is being held at a time of renewed bombing in the Middle East by the US and its allies.

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