The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) has called upon the Irish government to end the use of Shannon airport for military stopovers. A conference marking the seventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion yesterday drew together a coalition of political figures including Independent TD Finian McGrath, Labour TD Joe Costello, MEP Joe Higgins, Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh and Chairman of the Irish Anti-War movement, Richard Boyd Barrett.
Audio report of PANA conference
On St. Patrick’s Day, in addition to the usual pleasantries and claims to Irish ancestry, US President Barack Obama thanked the Irish Government for allowing US military planes to stop off at Shannon Airport. The seemingly innocent expression of gratitude has highlighted the fact that, despite large scale protests, this practice still occurs on a regular basis. In fact, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is understood to have stopped at Shannon airport for an hour on St. Patrick’s Day en route to Moscow.
Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance said that Obama’s very public 'thank you' to Brian Cowen "provided a dramatic and explicit confirmation of how deeply Ireland is implicated in this war and how important the US believes that help is both politically and logistically”.
The use of Shannon airport as a stopover point for US military aircraft has attracted ongoing controversy since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It later emerged that aircraft known to be used in controversial ‘rendition’ operations have passed through the Midwest airport.
The term “rendition” refers to the international transfer of individuals from the custody of one state to another in ways that circumvent judicial and administrative due process. Fundamentally, renditions violate international law by failing to respect requirements of due process, however, they frequently involve multiple human rights violations, including unlawful detention and torture.
In 2007, a national survey showed that 58% of Irish people opposed the use of Shannon Airport in the Iraq war - 58% of those surveyed were opposed.
In January, Politico reported that a cabinet committee set up to investigate the use of Shannon airport by the US military for flights engaged in 'extraordinary rendition' has met only twice since its establishment.
The committee is made up of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey and John Gormley, Minister for the Environment. It arose as a result of commitments made in June 2007 in the ‘Programme for Government 2007 – 2012’, where the new Irish Government declared that it is “completely opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition”.
Amnesty International contends that on at least four occasions, and possibly many more, Shannon was used to facilitate rendition flights.
Ireland’s involvement as a stopover point for aircraft involved in renditions has been publicly known since 2005 when it was first raised in the Dail. When asked about CIA rendition planes using Shannon airport, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs told the Oireachtas: “If anyone has any evidence of any of these flights please give me a call and I will have it immediately investigated.” In response, Amnesty International brought evidence to the government’s attention, in the form of flight logs, showing that six planes known to have been used by the CIA for renditions had made some 800 flights in or out of European airspace including 50 landings at Shannon airport.
Recent figures reveal that, in the last three years, almost €10 million has been spent on protecting US troops passing through Shannon airport on their way to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Department of Justice figures show the cost of providing Garda security at the airport was €8.6m between 2006 and 2008. During the same period, the cost of army patrols at the airport was €964,702.