Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (359, 360)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

359. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if personnel and passengers on a plane (details supplied) that stayed overnight in Ireland were tested on entering the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6423/21]

View answer

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

360. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of personnel and passengers that were on board a plane (details supplied); if they were carrying weaponry and ammunition; if the aircraft was inspected by members of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6424/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 359 and 360 together.

The landing in question was by a US military aircraft, with five crew and forty eight passengers on board. It had sought and received prior diplomatic clearance to land subject to our routine stipulations, including that it did not carry arms or ammunition. The US authorities have confirmed that this condition was met.

Sovereign immunity, a long-standing principle of customary international law, means that a State may not exercise its jurisdiction in respect of another State or its property, including State or military aircraft. This principle applies automatically to foreign State or military aircraft in the same way that it applies to Irish State or military aircraft abroad.

As regards public health measures, Statutory Instrument 11/2021 was the applicable regulation on that date, which stipulated that all passengers should present negative PCR tests on arrival and complete a passenger location form. Due to an error on the US side, the passengers on the flight did not present evidence of negative PCR tests nor complete passenger location forms.

Once informed of this breach of regulations by An Garda Siochána, the issue was raised with the US authorities, both through the US Embassy in Dublin and through our Embassy in Washington. The US authorities have undertaken a review of the circumstances which led to this breach. They have also confirmed that the passengers concerned were operating in a “clean bubble”, were tested repeatedly during the period they were deployed in the location where the flight originated and, following instructions by An Garda Síochána, self isolated in a hotel in Limerick overnight, only leaving once to purchase food, while masked, before returning to Shannon airport the following day to travel onward to their destination.

Nonetheless, any non-compliance is a serious matter and I made this clear in a discussion with the Chargé d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Dublin on 4 February. Our Ambassador in Washington has also made this clear in his contacts with senior officials in Washington. We have emphasised to the US authorities that all landings must fully abide by the conditions put in place by the Irish authorities, including public health conditions. The US authorities have assured me that this is understood and will not happen again.

It is clear that the requirements of the Statutory Instrument, which came into effect on 9 January, were inadequately communicated by the relevant US authorities across the entire US Government system. My Department and our Embassy in Washington have received apologies, both orally and in writing, from the relevant US authorities, including the US military authorities. The US side has recommitted to full compliance in respect of future landings.