Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Questions (38, 39)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

38. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of deployments of troops there were to Shannon Airport in 2016; the cost to the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7720/17]

View answer

Clare Daly

Question:

39. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether there has been any alteration in aid to civil power duties at Shannon Airport in 2017; and if he will provide details of same. [7644/17]

View answer

Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Can the Minister of State clarify whether Questions Nos. 38 and 39 are being taken together? If so, it is the first questioner who will introduce the question.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 39 together.

The Department of Defence circulated groupings earlier and these questions were not grouped. I register that point. I will not make any bigger deal about it, but it cannot happen again.

I apologise if that is the case.

It is the case.

Despite overwhelming public opposition, more than 2.5 million US troops have been facilitated at Shannon Airport since 2003 with the support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to conduct bloody wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The public is paying for this. How much are the Defence Forces spending to facilitate the US war machine? Does the Government intend to continue to spend that money when we now have a racist warmonger in the White House intent on unleashing even more war on people across the world?

As I said, I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 39 together.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft and for the granting of permission for overflights by foreign military aircraft. The Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State.

Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power which, in practice, means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Since 5 February 2003, An Garda Síochána has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. Security assessments are carried out by An Garda Síochána which determines if Defence Forces assistance is required. There has been no alteration to these arrangements in 2017. For security reasons, it would not be appropriate to disclose the precise detail of such deployments. The number of occasions that aid to the civil power functions were carried out by Defence Forces personnel at Shannon Airport in 2016 was 396. The cost incurred in the provision of this support by the Defence Forces to An Garda Síochána in 2016 was €181,669. These costs comprise payment of security duty allowance, provision of rations and fuel. To date in 2017, the Defence Forces have provided support to An Garda Síochána at Shannon Airport on 36 occasions at a cost of €19,822.

I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between both An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and between my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security matters generally, including the Defence Forces' aid to the civil power role.

We have long disagreed with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the facilitation of the US war machine at Shannon and the bloody consequences of that for Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen and on the spending of money to facilitate that by the Department of Defence and others. Can the Minister of State tell me if the Government intends to continue to spend public money to facilitate the US military at Shannon when we have a bloodthirsty racist warmonger in the White House? It is unconscionable if that is the case. The US Secretary of Defence is a bloodthirsty maniac whose name is "Mad Dog" Mattis and who has boasted about how it is fun to shoot and kill people and about how he wants to go and shoot more people in Afghanistan. Literally, the stench of death from the horrendous activities of the US military and Iraqi forces in Mosul means people have to cover their faces in the streets because of the stench of rotting bodies. These people want more of this. Is the Irish Government going to facilitate the war machine headed up by these maniacs, warmongers and bloodthirsty killers at Shannon Airport and spend public money on it? It seems unbelievable that it is.

I take it from his contribution that Deputy Boyd Barrett is no friend of Donald Trump.

I certainly am not.

As I stated in my initial reply, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft and the granting of permission for overflight by foreign military aircraft. As I also made the Deputy aware, the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána have primary responsibility for the internal security of the State. We only come to the aid of the civil power when requested to do so by An Garda Síochána. As such, the Deputy's question would more appropriately be directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

My question should never have been grouped with this one. It is actually different and I am not having the Minister of State hide behind a grouping of questions. My question is whether there has been any alteration in aid to the civil power duties in Shannon this year. I ask because €200,000 of the defence budget was spent to carry out these duties at Shannon 385 times last year.

Has that changed? The reason I am asking is because there have been some very peculiar developments at Shannon Airport, where civilian aircraft are landing and overflying our airspace with civilian registration, and then leaving and changing those call signs to military signs which means that the State would or should have a role in that regard.

For example, the Atlas Air B767 chartered to the US military overflew Ireland yesterday morning, coming from Carolina and using a civilian flight code. It then changed it after it left Irish airspace 20 minutes later to a military one. It travelled to Turkey to a base that is being used for bombings in Syria. Have there been any changes in aid to civil power duties and, if not, why not?

There has been no change. We are directed by An Garda Síochána to assist in aid to the civil power. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for the use of Shannon Airport and what flights go in and out of it. As I have repeatedly stated in the Chamber in response to Deputy Clare Daly and others, we are requested by An Garda Síochána to assist in aid to the civil power. That is the only involvement we have in flights landing at Shannon Airport.

Defence Forces personnel have been called out to protect US military aircraft. Have they been called out to protect any other aircraft? For example, on Monday of this week a Miami Air flight arrived at Shannon with a civilian call sign, but took off with a military call sign. Did Defence Forces personnel form an aid to civil power duty on this plane? Did they do so on 17 January with a Sun Country airlines flight which arrived on 18 January when an aeroplane was heading for Qatar?

Unusual developments are taking place at Shannon and I do not know whether things are being done to circumvent the supposed neutrality we have and the idea that permission needs to be sought. I am not clear on what the Minister of State is saying. Can he confirm that he is telling us that Defence Forces personnel have played no role in protecting those aircraft, despite the fact that they are repeatedly called out to protect official military aircraft?

We are called by An Garda Síochána to aid in the civil power to Shannon Airport on occasion. We protect the planes. We do not search them or make any policy decision whatsoever. That is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I have repeated that in the House on numerous occasions.

I am not sure whether the Deputy is looking for information on exact dates, but I will come back to her with further clarification. I do not have the exact date on which we were involved in aid to the civil power in Shannon Airport in January 2017. I will come back to the Deputy on that.

Could the Minister of State check which aircraft were involved?

To hide behind the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when the senior Minister in the Minister of State's Department is the Taoiseach on this issue is, to be honest, preposterous.

Has anything changed in the mindset of the Government vis-à-vis the facilitation of the US war machine at Shannon given that there is now a president that even the Government has brought itself to criticise? The President of the United States has racist attitudes and a dangerous agenda. Mattis, the Secretary for Defense, said, "The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world who just need to be shot." He carries on like that. That is the thinking of the new Secretary for Defense. Does the Minister of State think we should facilitate a military machine and pay money to do so at Shannon Airport when the head of that machine thinks that way? Has anything changed?

We have carried out this facilitation for over 50 years. Our policy has not changed.