Written Answers. - Military Overflights.

Jim Higgins

Question:

10 Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of authorised and unauthorised overflights of the Border by Northern security forces; and whether this is to become normal practice. [22069/98]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

36 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the overflight into County Louth by a British military aircraft on 15 October 1998; the procedure used to give Irish Government clearance for these incursions by air, sea or land; and if, in the first instance, his Department gives permission to the British authorities. [22041/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 36 together.

All overflights of the State by foreign military aircraft are governed by the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952. This provides, inter alia, that no foreign military aircraft shall fly over the State save on the express invitation or with the express permission of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is also provided, in relation to requests for permission to overfly the State, that the Minister may impose such conditions as he considers appropriate. In the case of Northern Ireland, there are long-standing arrangements for aircraft from one jurisdiction to fly, with permission and subject to strict conditions, for a short distance into the other jurisdiction to help in dealing with specific incidents or suspected explosive devices. Such oversights are also subject to the terms of the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952. The overnight into County Louth by a British military aircraft on 15 October 1998 was effected under these arrangements. In accordance with the normal practice in relation to security matters. I do not propose to go into any further detail.

Permission to overfly is given for a variety of purposes, including VIP transport and search and rescue. A number of different channels of communication are used, depending on the purpose of the flight, and in a number of cases security considerations apply. For these reasons, I do not propose to provide a total figure for authorised oversights. Deputies may take it, however, that flights of the type undertaken on 15 October occur infrequently and there are clear security and safety reasons for them.

I can assure Deputies that any unauthorised crossings of the Border, whether by air or otherwise, have always been viewed by the Government as a very serious matter. All reported incursions by British security force personnel into this jurisdiction are raised with the British authorities through the Anglo-lrish Secretariat in Belfast and they are appraised of our strong concerns.

Since 1 January 1998, we have raised four reports of unauthorised overflights with the British side.