Thursday, 17 January 2019

Questions (5)

Clare Daly


5. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of Defence Forces' personnel providing aid to the civil power at Shannon Airport in 2018. [1960/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I am wondering about the cost and scale of the Defence Forces' involvement in aid-to-the-civil-power functions at Shannon Airport, where, as we know, their primary duty is to protect US military aircraft, such as the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transporter that went through the airport in October on its way to Tel Aviv. It came back via the airport a couple of days later. It is operated by the US Air Force airlift wing and is capable of carrying vast quantities of military weaponry to an area of the world where we know Palestinians have been under attack. What are we at?

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. On each occasion that the support of the Defence Forces is required, An Garda Síochána issues a C70 form to the Defence Forces to request their assistance.

Since 5 February 2003, the Garda has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The cost of the presence of Defence Forces performing aid-to-the-civil-power duties at Shannon Airport in 2018 was €180,532.93. The cost relates to security duty allowances paid to members of the Defence Forces, rations and fuels. The cost of aid-to-the-civil-power operations is met entirely from the defence Vote.

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 roles.

Over a 24-hour period in November last year, eight days after the Globemaster aircraft passed through Shannon Airport on its way to Tel Aviv, probably with its military cargo of bombs and drones, Israel launched air strikes on Gaza that flattened multiple civilian buildings and caused absolute havoc. Given the war crimes being committed by the Israeli military and government against Palestinians, why is the Government allowing Shannon to be used by a military transport aircraft flying to Tel Aviv? Is the Minister of State not concerned that his Defence Forces personnel, who have other tasks to do, are tied up guarding that aircraft, which is potentially complicit in carrying out Israeli war crimes? Did our Defence Forces provide aid to the civil power for the aircraft on the day in question? For how many more airplanes en route to commit more crimes around the world, whether in Israel, Yemen or Afghanistan, were we providing cover in 2018? Does the Minister of State not believe 2019 is the year to start a change in this regard?

I am not aware that members of the Defence Forces were present. They were called out to provide aid to the civil power on the occasion but I do not have the details of the aircraft the Deputy is speaking about. She speculated on what was on board but the Defence Forces have no responsibility to search foreign military aircraft that land at Shannon Airport. This is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which can request aid to the civil power. I have set out the cost of aid to the civil power in 2018. I have already indicated on numerous occasions that the Department of Defence has no policy in this area. It is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and An Garda Síochána. We respond to An Garda Síochána when it requests aid to the civil power. That is the role we play regarding going to Shannon Airport.

The reply of playing dumb, seeing no evil and hearing no evil is not adequate in this scenario, particularly from a member of the Cabinet. For the Minister of State to say he does not know what is on board because the Defence Forces do not search aircraft is pretty convenient when other arms of the State have the power to search but absolutely do not bother.

It is almost exactly 17 years since the first prisoners arrived in Guantanamo Bay. We now know many of them were transported through Shannon Airport. Back in those days, we at least pretended we were not comfortable with it. This is no longer the case as we just say we do not know what is going on and that we do not really care. We know that one or a number of the carriers have regularly transited through Shannon. Some detainees have been in Guantanamo Bay for 15 years without any charge. Many of them are Yemenis. If they got out, what would they be going back to — a country destroyed by war, facilitated by the US military, which the Minister of State's Defence Forces personnel are tied up minding? I would like the information the Minister of State said he could get for me. I would like him to raise with the Cabinet the fact that if his personnel do not have the right to search, the Garda might do it and that he would help the force, thereby freeing up Defence Forces personnel to do their job elsewhere and allowing us to reclaim our right to be a neutral country.

There is absolutely no question about our military neutrality. I am not sure whether the Deputy has raised this issue with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney.

However, it must be highlighted that successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for more than 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

I take the Deputy's concerns on board. She stated that she feels strongly about this. I have no issue with that whatsoever. She should take up this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.

I have. If the Minister of State could get him to get back to me, that would be a help.

It would be the more appropriate Department to ask that question of.