Statement by Minister Cowen on US Overflights and Landings at Shannon Airport

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., today sought to clarify the position regarding the use of Shannon airport for the transit of military aircraft and personnel. The Minister recalled the fact that he has previously replied to numerous Parliamentary questions and issued many public and media statements on the matter.

He said that:

“it is simply not the case that the US is using Shannon to transit large quantities of arms to the Gulf.

Shannon is one of a number of European airports used for many years as a transit by US aircraft, mainly for the transit of military personnel to a wide range of destinations.

It appears that Shannon is chosen by the US because it offers quick turn-around with efficient and friendly service.

Shannon is used by both military aircraft and by civilian aircraft carrying military personnel. Foreign military aircraft require the permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to overfly or land in the State [Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft Order) 1952]. Civilian aircraft do not require special permission to land in the State but must seek the permission of the Minister for Transport to carry munitions of war [Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973].

A significant proportion of US military aircraft landing at Shannon are VIP transports and refuelling planes. The remainder are cargo planes, none of which in the recent past were declared as carrying munitions.

In the whole of last year, the Department of Transport received only one request for the landing at Shannon of a civilian aircraft carrying munitions.

It has been indicated to us that troops travelling on civilian aircraft are sometimes accompanied by their personal weapons which are carried in the hold of the aircraft. However, they do not carry ammunition and they do not bring their weapons into the airport buildings. My officials have been in touch with the US authorities to ensure that civilian carriers are reminded of their obligation to seek permission for the transit of weapons and ammunition through Irish airports.

The US is a friendly country and we do not seek to board US military aircraft or aircraft carrying US personnel in order to verify their declared cargo.”

As regards the wearing of uniforms, the Minister confirmed that US troops have been permitted to wear uniforms in the transit area of Irish airports, but that further permission must be sought for them to wear uniforms outside these areas [Defence Act 1954, Section 317].

He emphasised that the Government has, at present, no intention of altering the existing regulations regarding overflight and landing arrangements.

Turning to the wider question of the situation regarding Iraq, the Minister stressed that war was not inevitable and that every effort must be made to avoid it. “Security Council Resolution 1441 represents a road map to a peaceful settlement. Only if Iraq fails to meet its obligation to divest itself of any nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capability will the Council, in the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have to face its responsibilities”. The Minister also pointed out that all prior experience confirms that only the credible threat of force is likely to persuade the regime to meet its disarmament obligations.

The Minister was strongly critical of those who have sought to undermine the authority of the legitimacy of the UN's action in relation to Iraq. He said: “all who believe in an international order based on principles of justice and law have to stand up for the authority of the Security Council and for compliance with the decisions it takes, including the resolutions it adopts, on behalf of the UN members. Those who complain that the Security Council is not always consistent in its response to various threats to international peace and security should not themselves seek to pick and chose when they are prepared to back the action taken by the Council. It is the policy of this Government to support the Security Council in all its decisions.”

Minister Cowen confirmed that, in the event of the Security Council deciding to sanction military action against the Iraqi regime, or indeed in the event of any military action being taken by any country or group of countries, the Government will review the existing situation in relation to overflights and landings and will bring the matter before the Dáil.


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