As Ms D'Arcy has said, Shannon Airport has become a virtual forward airbase for the US military and, as Dr. Horgan has said, almost 2.5 million armed soldiers have passed through this civilian airport. It has been a logistical fulcrum for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We know the chaos that both of these countries are suffering right now which is a direct consequence of airports like Shannon being used.
The other serious issue that I want to draw attention to today is the rendition planes. We know that the CIA rendition plans have used Shannon Airport. Shannon has been used to commit torture and we have been used to commit torture and to destroy by allowing Shannon Airport to be used by those planes.
I want to draw the committee's attention to three specific points regarding the planes. First, I wish to refer to the narrow interpretation of the State's responsibilities when it comes to rendition planes. There does not need to be a prisoner onboard a plane in order for it to constitute torture. Let us remember that Ireland is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which make it illegal to facilitate torture. The 2006 report compiled by Mr. Dick Marty for the Council of Europe states:
Ireland, could be held responsible for active or passive collusion (in the sense of having tolerated or having been negligent in fulfilling the duty to supervise) ... for permitting stopovers for flights involving the unlawful transfer of detainees.
Second, the Irish Government has relied on diplomatic assurances from the US Administration that prisoners had not, or would not, be taken through Shannon. We know from experience, and I am not going to go through the catalogue of incidents that shows that the US Administration has lied about what it has been doing around the world. However, we know that the Irish Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the European Parliament have said that diplomatic assurances are not sufficient to comply with Ireland's international human rights obligations.
The third area of concern for us is how the State has responded to complaints about rendition planes, or suspect rendition planes, at Shannon. We have provided in our report to the committee a redacted list of over 40 complaints relating to requests to search particular aircraft at Shannon which were made to gardaí. This is not a comprehensive list. The number of complaints that we have made which have gone unanswered is estimated to be over 100.
The Air Navigation and Transport Act gives and has given power to the Garda to search rendition planes. Activists, like ourselves, have brought the presence of those planes to the attention of the Garda. On a number of occasions it has referred to either an instruction, policy decision or letter of advice to the effect that the US military and CIA planes at Shannon were not to be searched. In 2006, and again in 2007, officers have said, and referred to the fact, that the direction had come from the Attorney General. We have written to the Attorney General on this matter and her office has said that the allegations are completely without foundation.
To be clear, we are not making unfounded allegations or accusations, against the former Attorney General, of wrongdoing. We are simply repeating what the gardaí have said to us and seeking clarification on the matter. How did the gardaí, at Shannon, arrive at an understanding that they were not to search US military or rendition planes?
In light of information that we provided in our longer submission that we presented today, I want to briefly highlight five key recommendations to the committee. First, the State should provide comprehensive information on all complaints that were received by the Garda regarding aircraft suspected of being involved in renditions, or suspected of carrying munitions that were illegal and destined for destruction and for human rights abuses, and also for planes that were basically in violation of international and national laws. We have had incomplete and selective reporting. It highlights the Government's failure to protect the rights enshrined in the treaties that it signed up to, such as the convention against torture. It also suggests that the Garda has failed in its duty to investigate complaints made to it regarding very serious matters of life and death.
I am pleased to note the Chairman's point about the Seanad and the International Covenant on Civil Right and the recommendation to have an investigation and oversight of rendition planes, which is long overdue. We reiterate our calls to hold an independent impartial inquiry into the use of Shannon in the CIA's illegal rendition programme which should also address the failure to inspect. We need to learn from what has happened in Shannon over the past ten years. We must ensure it does not continue and that we are not complicit or continue to be complicit in crimes. The Government should also review and, if necessary, strengthen procedures governing the inspection of aircraft. If we do not have enough powers to do so then we must ask that the power to search and inspect aircraft is given to the Garda.
It is fundamentally important that no special agreements are made with the US, or other governments, and that precludes the routine ongoing inspection of state military aircraft through Irish airports. Goodness knows we can recall that when an Irish State aircraft was destined for America the Americans insisted on searching it. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, I believe, had planned to travel on the aircraft. We need to do the same with planes that we know have been involved in appalling human rights abuses and war crimes.
We need greater transparency regarding matters that are of fundamental importance to Ireland's foreign policy. The first step should be full disclosure of all agreements currently in place regarding the US military and the CIA's use of Shannon Airport.
As I said, Shannon has become the logistical fulcrum in ongoing wars, invasions and occupations by the United States and NATO. It has become a route of preference for all US soldiers. When they go to serve abroad they pass through Shannon Airport. Therefore, it has become known globally as one of the airbases that is used by American. That makes it a tempting target for radicalised elements who wish to target American soldiers or state aircraft.
I shall return to what Dr. Horgan mentioned about neutrality.
The final point we would make is in regard to recommendations. We need to enshrine Irish neutrality in the Irish Constitution because this is in accordance with the wishes of the vast majority of Irish people. Those wishes must be recognised and steps must be taken to give effect to them.
As we were preparing for this meeting, it was reported last week that when the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, made his way to Russia last year, a secret US Government jet, which was previously used for renditions, flew into Europe in an effort to bring him back to the United States. The committee may be interested to know that this aeroplane, which had a registration N977GA, is still a regular visitor to Shannon Airport. Why is it at Shannon Airport? Who is on board? Is it still involved in kidnapping and torture? We do not know because the people who have responsibility for finding out will not use their powers to do so? It means the serious issue of renditions and of involvement in wars are not a thing of the past. They are both still with us and they need to be dealt with urgently as a matter of very serious public interest.