Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Use of Air Space.


asked the Minister for Communications the circumstances surrounding the reported invasion of Irish air space by disguised RAF aircraft; and if he will make a statement on this serious situation.

I assume the Deputy is referring to newspaper articles which appeared in July last saying that a British military aircraft, operating in Irish controlled airspace, had disguised itself and used a "dummy" call sign. The circumstances are that the aircraft operated through Irish controlled airspace in accordance with normal civil aviation procedures. At no stage was the aircraft disguised nor did it use a "dummy" call sign.

Can the Minister confirm that this aircraft had received permission from the Department of Communications to operate in Irish air space and, if so, when was the permission sought and when was it granted?

Shannon air traffic control records show that on 19 July 1985 a Nimrod aircraft, operating in accordance with civil aviation rules and procedures and complying with instructions from Shannon air traffic control, flew through the Shannon flight information region. The plane proceeded in accordance with the various regulations, both national and international in this regard. What happened is normal practice. All the procedures, such as seeking clearance in advance, were complied with.

Did the Minister say the aircraft was a civil aircraft?

It was a Nimrod aircraft.

In other words, it was a military aircraft operating under civil aircraft rules.

It was required to conform with civil aviation rules when passing through our air space.

What was the purpose of the flight?

As I have said, this is normal procedure. It is quite routine.

Can the Minister say how frequently it occurs?

I do not have details of the exact number of times but I can assure the Deputy that this type of incident is fairly normal. There is nothing exceptional about it. Clearance was given for the aircraft. The area concerned includes air space over the high seas and what we are talking about here is about a plane flying over the high seas for about 200 miles west of Ireland.

Would the Minister agree that these military aircraft basically are playing war games over the territory of a neutral country and can he indicate whether this might have any effect on our position as a neutral State?

What the Deputy is referring to is something that happens all around the world. So long as the aircraft concerned conformed to the rules prevailing, that was the end of the matter. In our case so long as the instructions from Shannon air traffic control are complied with, the aircraft are free to operate.