Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 Feb 2014

Vol. 829 No. 3

Priority Questions

Air Accident Investigations

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence the action he will take to address the ongoing concerns over the death of a person (details supplied) and the subsequent investigation into the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5866/14]

This question brings us back to the very unfortunate events of October 2009 when two members of the Air Corps lost their lives and to the saga that has continued since regarding the death of Cadet David Jevens. I acknowledge that the Minister is due to meet the Jevens family again, with senior members of the Air Corps, with a view to trying to resolve the matter. However, there are some outstanding issues which it would be useful to ventilate.

Yet again I extend my sympathy to the families of the deceased.

There have been three separate official investigations into this tragic accident, the first of which was conducted by the air accident investigation unit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Its final report setting out its findings was published on 24 January 2012. It found that the probable cause of the accident was the spatial disorientation of the instructor-pilot in conditions of poor visibility resulting in controlled flight into terrain.

In May 2012 a coroner’s inquest was held into the deaths of the two crew members. The jury recorded an open verdict in the case of the instructor-pilot and a verdict of accidental death in the case of the cadet.

The third investigation was a military court of inquiry which had been convened by order of the Chief of Staff on 26 July 2012 and it produced its report on 17 January 2013. The court of inquiry’s findings are consistent with the earlier investigations, namely, that the probable cause of the accident was the spatial disorientation of the instructor who was piloting the aircraft in conditions of poor visibility at the time.

I received a series of correspondence from the family in which allegations were made in respect of a wide range of issues to do with the investigation of the tragic accident. I sought the advice of the Attorney General in this regard. I have fully considered the matter in the context of this legal advice and I am satisfied that a further investigation is not warranted into any issue relating to this tragic accident. I informed the family late last year of my decision in that regard. Officials from my Department also met the family in early January to convey my decision and afford them the opportunity to discuss their concerns further. Following that meeting, I have arranged to meet the family again next week to discuss their concerns. I understand they feel the content of the court of inquiry's report introduces issues and opinions which, in their view, raise questions concerning their son’s role in this tragic event. For the record, I reassure them again that this line of argument is not supported in any report and has never been given any official credence. All of the reports agree that Cadet Jevens bore no responsibility of any kind for the tragic accident.

I thank the Minister for again saying, as he has said explicitly in the past, that not one scintilla of blame for this accident can be attached to Cadet Jevens. The difficulty for the family who have dedicated themselves since his death to this issue is twofold. First, they strongly contend the evidence adduced since his death indicates in their mind that there was not at play within the Air Corps the priority to safety and safety measures that there should have been and because of a culture which did not prioritise safety their son died. Second, they contend there has been a series of breaches of military procedures and protocols in how the matter has been dealt with by the defence authorities and that, in effect, the system has pulled down the shutters, the wagons have been circled and the system has defended itself against the family in seeking to have their concerns and complaints vindicated.

As I believe the Deputy knows, there is no question of pulling down the shutters or circling the wagons. I have gone through the series of events and there is no interest of any description in not knowing the truth. The tragic reality and truth is that there was serious pilot error by the instructor and that Cadet Jevens bears no responsibility of any description.

No change in systems or any other issue that could have arisen had an impact, based on the reports and inquires that have been conducted, on the judgment made at the time which resulted in this dreadful tragedy.

I greatly sympathise with the family and I appreciate and how difficult it is to come to terms with such an awful event where one loses a son in circumstances that were not within his control. No one anticipates such a tragedy occurring in their lives and it is enormously difficult to come to terms with such an incident. I met the family previously and I am happy to meet them again. I do not know that a meeting can bring them the peace of mind that I wish them to have in difficult circumstances. Substantial time has been spent - it was time worth spending - by both officials in my Department and members of the Air Corps in seeking to assist and counsel the family and to provide them with as much information as possible.

In some correspondence I have received, there have been suggestions - or, as the Deputy said, people think there are implications - that Cadet Jevens has in some way, shape or form been found to be at fault. I have read all the reports and that is not derived from a single report. There is no such conclusion. I reiterate clearly that there is no question of his being in any way remotely to blame for the dreadful tragedy that occurred.

We have a common purpose in this regard. We want to work with the family to bring them to the point at which they can have closure on this. Nonetheless, they persist in their conviction that there is something wrong and that military codes and procedures have not been followed. I am sure they will present the 33 items that seem to make a prima facie case to support their claim that there was a breach in procedures by the Defence Forces authorities in dealing with their son's case. However, they also seriously claim that in recent times their attempts to bring this matter to the attention of the Military Police and to have it investigated by them have been blocked, and they are explicit in this. They say the members of the Military Police to whom they have sought to make complaints and whom they have asked to carry out investigations have been blocked and have been told not to undertake those investigations. It would be helpful if the Minister responded to that matter.

I refer again to something that is central and key to this. In so far as issues could arise with regard to systems within the Air Corps, the following of protocols and so on, this accident was the tragic consequence of one thing only. There was no aircraft failure. It was the tragic consequence of an unfortunate judgment made by the instructor. According to the report, Cadet Jevens expressed his reservations about the aircraft continuing along the route the instructor proposed based on the recordings from the aircraft. That is my recollection, although it is some time since I read the report. The instructor made a decision and we had this dreadful tragedy, which has been explored on three different occasions.

I will meet the family. I do not want to go into detail on other matters. We will have whatever discussion we can that is of assistance to them but there are issues in respect of which the family require help and assistance. That is available to them through the Air Corps or otherwise and I very much hope they will avail of it because I understand the difficulties in coming to terms with the dreadful event that occurred.

Defence Forces Investigations

Pádraig MacLochlainn


2. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Defence if he will provide an update on the case of two members of the Defence Forces (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5768/14]

On 27 April 1981, two privates in our Defence Forces were manning an observation post in the village of Dyar Ntar, south Lebanon. One of them, Private Hugh Doherty, from Letterkenny in my constituency, lost his life, while the other, Private Kevin Joyce from the Aran Islands, was kidnapped and his body has never been found. I am seeking a reinvestigation of the matter by the Minister and ask that every person who may have knowledge from that period about what happened on that day be interviewed.

The case to which the Deputy refers dates back to 1981 and relates to an attack on two members of the Irish battalion serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, at that time. On 27 April 1981, an observation post in south Lebanon manned by Private Hugh Doherty and Private Kevin Joyce came under attack. Private Doherty was later found dead from gunshot wounds and Private Joyce was missing, while some equipment was also missing. The attackers are unknown.

The incident and the disappearance of Private Joyce have been the subject of ongoing investigation by successive Irish units in UNIFIL, including a Military Police investigation in 1985, an intensive investigation by the 88th battalion in 2000-01 and a senior officer delegation in 2005, assisted by diplomatic efforts at the highest level, to endeavour to locate his whereabouts. To date, no information has been elicited to lead to the recovery of Private Joyce. However, I am advised by the military authorities that the situation in UNIFIL is that the case remains open. Efforts are made from time to time in Lebanon to establish the location of the private's remains and, if located, efforts will be made to repatriate them. The Department will continue to make every effort to bring this tragic case to a conclusion.

There are two aspects to this tragedy. The most important is the fact that Private Kevin Joyce's body has not been recovered and returned to his family on the Aran Islands. The other aspect is the apparently poor investigation into the circumstances that led to this incident. I have read a book by Frank Sumner, who served proudly in our Defence Forces for more than 20 years and who was in the Lebanon at the time. He has a number of questions. Why were statements not taken from all members of the Defence Forces serving there at the time? There are issues around the observation post being isolated and not appearing to have the necessary support to prevent the tragic events of that day. Casings from the bullets used to kill Private Hugh Doherty were recovered at the scene but they seemed to have been misplaced afterwards. There is also the issue of the force's mobile reserve being withdrawn from the area after three days. Mr. Sumner has a range of questions in this book, From One End Of The Rainbow. Will officials from the Department of Defence or the Minister meet him to go through the concerns he has and the allegations he has made? I have not seen them challenged to date and while it is open to the Department to challenge them, there is clearly a need to re-investigate this issue and to get all the answers for the two families.

With regard to tragic events such as this, the Deputy well knows in the context of this island the difficulty in locating remains where the likelihood is that individuals are still on the island who were the perpetrators of the murder of innocent individuals. It is a great deal more difficult in the context of an unidentified attack on two members of an Irish UN battalion where one individual effectively disappeared - and there is, tragically, no indication that he is still alive - to go about identifying the location of the remains. That is a great deal more difficult because on this island there are individuals who know who shot whom and where the remains are. We do not know who is responsible in this case. I would dearly love to achieve clarity and closure for the families.

I have received correspondence from individuals who allege there was a cover-up by the Defence Forces in this tragic incident and there has been a request for a new inquiry, but two inquiries were conducted into the incident, the first by the United Nations and the second by the then director of operations for the Defence Forces, Colonel Savino. What is clear from the Savino report is that there was a comprehensive and critical review of the incident. Inadequacies in the way procedures were operated and the establishment and staffing of the post where the individuals in question were tragically killed were identified in the report. I am not making the case that everything was perfect. However, recommendations were made to address the deficiencies and these, obviously, are matters of importance in the context of the way we conduct operations today.

I will make two points. First, this incident happened a long time ago and it will not be easy to locate the remains. I want to establish if the Government or the Defence Forces serving in Lebanon recently made contact with either the Palestinian or the Lebanese authorities? I know that in 2001 the then Minister, Mr. Michael Smith, and others had been in contact with the Palestinian authorities and that there might have been a possibility that somebody would be able to assist in finding the location of the remains. Will the Minister or an official from his Department meet Mr. Frank Sumner about the issues he has raised in his book? It would be in the public interest to meet him, to hear what he has to say and to either investigate or dismiss them, as is the Minister's right. These issues need to be addressed and answers given.

First, if I can be of assistance in meeting them, I am always willing to meet the families. I have received correspondence and I am reviewing and considering its content, but I must be realistic in the context of the issues the Deputy has raised. As I mentioned, successive Irish UNIFIL battalions and successive Ministers have inquired into this incident. I can recall on one of my visits to Lebanon that I raised this issue in a conversation with the head of the UNIFIL force but no light has been shone to identify the individuals responsible for the attack and there is no indication of where the remains may or could be located across southern Lebanon or elsewhere. There are no individuals whom we can identify, so many years on, who could provide further or greater enlightenment. I wish it were the case that there were, but I do not want to hold out unrealistic expectations for the families. I understand their need for closure, but, unfortunately, from my own inquiries into the matter - this was an issue to which I gave some consideration quite some time ago - it seems there is only a very remote possibility of further information becoming available.

Defence Forces Properties

Clare Daly


3. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence if he will stop the eviction process which has been initiated against some former members of the Defence Forces who reside in family quarters in the Curragh Camp and instead engage in a dialogue with these families and members of PDFORRA to reach an agreed settlement in relation to these accommodation units. [5849/14]

The Minister and I have discussed on a number of occasions the issue of former members of the Defence Forces being evicted from their homes in the Curragh Camp. I know he has called them overholders and used anachronisms, but they are 29 families and individuals, a number of whom left their homes early this morning to attend this discussion and are present in the Visitors Gallery. They are not here to cause the Minister embarrassment or trouble but literally to plead with him to call off the evictions and sit down with them to agree a solution. We are not being prescriptive about what that solution should be, but the current method is certainly not desirable for anybody.

The Deputy and I addressed this issue recently on the last occasion defence questions were taken. I will give some information that I previously gave to the House.

In February 1997 the then Minister for Defence set out the policy on married quarters on the basis that they were largely an anachronism and that they should be discontinued in a managed and orderly way. My Department has since discontinued the practice of providing such accommodation. In addition, given the age of the housing stock, it has been found that over time the properties require a significant and disproportionate investment in order to ensure compliance with regulations for rental properties. In recent years much of the stock has become unsuitable for habitation and has had to be taken out of use. Consequently, there has been a sharp decline in the number of married quarters in use, with only 26 serving personnel occupying married quarters in the Curragh.

Personnel are obliged, as I have advised the House previously and as my predecessors have done, under Defence Force regulations to vacate married quarters within a specified period of being discharged from the Permanent Defence Force. The term "overholder" is used to describe former members of the Defence Forces and their families who have refused to leave married quarters within 21 days of leaving the Defence Forces. The situation of overholders continuing to occupy married quarters is not sustainable. There are 28 overholders in married quarters in the Curragh. The overholding charge for those paying ranges from €42.16 per week to €113.48 per week depending on property type. The majority of overholders are paying at the lower end of the scale. In the Curragh Camp of the 28 overholders, only 18 are paying all charges due. My Department is, therefore, in accordance with normal procedure, seeking vacant possession of overheld married quarters and will continue to do so until the overholding issue is resolved. It does not have a role, as I previously advised the Deputy, in the provision of housing accommodation for the general public and cannot subsidise housing for persons who have no entitlement and who may well have the means to supply housing for themselves.

As promised on the last occasion this matter arose, I have asked that a technical assessment of the pool of properties, taking account of the locations of the properties within the camp, their configuration, both internally and externally, and their general condition be undertaken so as to inform a decision on whether it is economically viable to restore and use any of the properties in a cost effective manner, restoration, of course, being dependent on funding being available in the future. The funding requirement is likely to be significant as the unoccupied properties are uninhabitable, with many in extremely poor condition.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Any development of property at this key location from the public purse must, in the first instance, be considered for use for military purposes. I cannot, as the Deputy will understand, support the illegal occupation of Department of Defence property by those who have no entitlement. The securing of alternative housing is a matter for the individuals concerned in the first instance. If individuals are not in a position to secure housing in their own right, it may be the case that they qualify for social housing or for some level of housing assistance. Officials of my Department have met Kildare County Council officials regarding overholders in order that they are aware of the situation and will advise overholders of procedures and requirements when making applications for social housing.

The Minister has repeated everything he said previously and, in fairness, we refuted these points on each occasion. Essentially, he has argued that he is not in the housing business, that it costs too much, that other agencies look after housing, that he is the Minister for Defence and that people knew when they were given houses that they would have to leave. We can answer all of these points. Some did not know and they are in the Visitors Gallery. Even if it was stated in their contracts, they had a reasonable expectation that they could remain because the practice had been that the Defence Forces allowed people to remain on. The Minister answered us last month to the effect that, based on his Department's figures, it made money out of the fact that they were there. Five times as much comes in by way of rent as goes out in paying for repairs to those dwellings. However, the main point we want to make is that the Minister has a duty of care. Ten days after we had raised the issue on the previous occasion and four days before Christmas one of the families received an eviction notice. The father had given 42 years of loyal service to the State and raised his family in the house. He was a proud and committed soldier. He has tried to vacate the property. He has gone to the bank, but he has been told he is too old to apply for a mortgage. He has gone to the council which has told him he has too much money to apply for a council house. The people involved will not go away. I, therefore, ask the Minister to call a halt to the evictions and try to agree a solution with them. I do not know what it might be, but treating them in this way is appalling.

As the Deputy is well aware, many of the individuals to whom she is referring as overholders have been overholding for many years. The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have given a great deal of leeway and consideration to the circumstances of the individuals involved. If that had not been the case, the individuals to whom the Deputy refers, some of whom I assume are in the Visitors Gallery, would not still be residing in these properties. That is factual and the reality. The difficulty is that there were conditions attached to the usage of these properties. I have the greatest regard and respect for members of the Defence Forces and, in particular, for members with long service, but I come back to the issue mentioned. Regardless of how emotively the Deputy wishes to present it, neither the Defence Forces nor the Department of Defence is a housing authority.

The securing of alternative housing is a matter for the individuals concerned in the first instance. If they are not in a position to secure housing in their own right, again, it may be the case that they qualify for social housing and they qualify for some level of housing assistance. As I said to the Deputy previously, officials in my Department have met officials of Kildare County Council regarding over-holders. The council is aware of the situation and it will advise people of the procedures available. However, I cannot stand over families remaining in accommodation in which they are not entitled to remain. My Department and I, as well as my predecessors, have tried to deal with this matter in as humanitarian and as considered a way as possible and we will continue to so do. I have a duty as Minister for Defence to ensure that the specific rules applicable to the use of housing are complied with.

The reality is that the Minister's departmental officials have not engaged with people. The Minister's implication that the Department has acted with leeway and consideration and in a humanitarian way by issuing eviction notices four days before Christmas indicates a very different understanding of the English language. I say again that these people are not going away, but not because they are unruly or troublesome; people of a military background are normally very good at obeying orders and do not like to question authority. The reason this will not go away is that they have nowhere to go. This issue will not disappear off the Minister's radar and it will only get worse as more families are brought in to the net. Deputy Wallace, in a former life, was a builder. He made an offer that he would cost the works required to make those dwellings habitable. It would not cost the Minister anything to accept those figures. I ask the Minister if he will hold off the evictions and look at those proposals. Critically, will the Minister or his Defence Forces personnel in the Curragh meet these people who are in the Visitors Gallery? If he were willing to meet them afterwards when this discussion is finished they would tell him that the information he has given about how they are being treated fairly - that they were given information, encouraged and told what options are available to them - is not correct at all. I appeal to the Minister to organise a meeting in the Curragh with the Defence Forces or else meet them now after this debate. Otherwise, we will be back here every time.

The Deputy can repetitively raise the issue but, unfortunately, the position will not change. I will not comment on the expertise of Deputy Wallace in the building trade and what occurred with regard to outcomes in the manner in which he managed his construction company, because that is nothing to do with the matter. I have to rely on the advice and expertise of officials in the Department. As I said to the Deputy and to Deputy Wallace, who raised the same issue as to whether vacant properties have any possibility of future usage or could be renovated, this is a matter that is under consideration. We have engaged in conversations with Kildare County Council on the possibility of some joint housing scheme involving the Department of Defence and Kildare County Council with the council eventually taking over such a scheme. No funding has been identified for such a scheme and the likelihood of this being achieved is extremely uncertain due to a range of issues, including the security of Curragh Camp. Families and extended families cannot be permitted to reside in this location in circumstances in which they have ceased to have an engagement with the Defence Forces to the extent that no member of the family is a member of the Defence Forces. There are rules and regulations applicable to this, but I reiterate my central point that had there not been consideration for the real human circumstances of individual families, and had either I or my predecessors taken the type of approach that the Deputy is describing, many of these families would have been evicted years ago by way of court order.

I ask Members to keep to the time limits under Standing Orders.

I will do my very best.

I am not picking on Deputy Ó Fearghaíl.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence if he or his Department has been informed of the number of former members of the Defence Forces who are now homeless; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5867/14]

It is fortuitous that this question is being raised in the aftermath of the point made by Deputy Clare Daly. My question focuses on the relatively small cohort of people who have had great difficulty in making the transition from being members of the Defence Forces to being civilians. The problem for some is a difficulty in securing housing accommodation. Currently there are three hostels for former members of the Defence Forces operated by the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women, ONE. I pay tribute to Ollie O'Connor and others involved in that initiative.

The issue of housing and homelessness is a matter in the first instance for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. A similar perspective was taken by my predecessors. As a matter of course, my Department does not provide homes for retired personnel, and for many years a process of phasing out married quarters for serving personnel has been in place. As such, my Department has no information on the number, if any, of former members of the Defence Forces who may be homeless.

My Department provides an annual subvention of €40,000 to ONE, which is dedicated to looking after the welfare of former service personnel of the Irish Defence Forces by way of providing accommodation to homeless, elderly or disabled members in need of such domestic accommodation and shelter and other assistance that may be required.

The organisation is a limited company with charitable status. It provides accommodation with 30 places in Smithfield, six places in Athlone and six places in Letterkenny. Any retired soldier, male or female, may contact the Smithfield centre directly and ONE will assist by directing the person to other facilities within the health services or the local authority services, or by offering a room, if vacant, in Dublin, Athlone or Letterkenny.

The funding from my Department is provided to support the general overheads of the organisation and expressly not for the provision of services that are provided to citizens, including members of ONE, by other State services, such as housing, health and social assistance. Dublin City Council continues to support the ONE homeless initiative in Smithfield. This support is very welcome.

The Minister cannot come in here and absolve himself entirely of responsibility for those people who leave the Defence Forces and who will have been institutionalised in some respects with the result that they become homeless. The Minister says his predecessors did likewise. I say they were wrong to approach the issue in that way and I say that the Minister is wrong now and that he has a responsibility to look at what is a manageable problem but one that none the less requires some level of ministerial involvement. It costs about €600,000 to run the three hostels in Athlone, Dublin and Letterkenny. The question is whether there is a need for hostel accommodation in other parts of the country, such as in the southern command area and in the Curragh area. If the Minister proceeds to evict the families in the Curragh, there will be a need for emergency accommodation for those people. This is a real issue and the Minister cannot pass on that responsibility entirely. I agree the Departments with responsibility for the environment and health have some responsibility, but the Minister also has a responsibility in this area.

It suits the Deputy for party political purposes to emote on what is a serious issue. His own party was in government for over a decade and did not address this issue. His party took the view that housing and accommodation issues are matters for local authorities and for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Deputy's emoting does not change that situation. The Department of Defence cannot assume a housing provision mandate. What the Department of Defence can do is be supportive of the charitable organisation ONE. Of course I would welcome if that organisation, as a charitable body, was able to raise funding to provide additional hostel facilities. The Deputy expects that a magic wand can be waved and he disavows any responsibility for this situation during his many years in this House while supporting his colleagues in government who took the same approach. There is a significant credibility gap between what the Deputy says on behalf of his party and what it did during the years when it dominated the Government.

The Minister is wrong again. In County Kildare, for example, when my party was in government and when we had the control of the local authority, we operated a policy whereby 10% of the local authority houses delivered in the Newbridge and Kildare area were retained for people who were classified by the Department of Defence as over-holders.

I have been directly involved with the local community in Suncroft in developing a voluntary housing association, which has housed many people who would otherwise have become over-holders in the Curragh Camp. The Minister will not be aware of the detail.

The broader issue is that for a limited number of members of the Defence Forces, making a transition from military life to civilian life is a problem. The Minister cannot completely absolve himself of responsibility for addressing that issue.

The Deputy has just confirmed the position. The initiatives in which he was engaged were to encourage, in so far as he was engaged in them, Kildare County Council to take up a responsibility for individuals who were clearly in need of housing and to engage with the trust that sought to deal with these issues. He has made exactly that point. Why did the Deputy so deal with the matter? He did so because he knew it was not the responsibility of the Department of Defence, nor appropriate to the Department, to so deal with matters. I would welcome further engagement from Kildare County Council, with which my Department has engaged with regard to over-holders. We seek to do what we can in that regard.

The Deputy has just established the truth of what I said. Any action he took when his party was in government was not to urge my predecessors to take on this responsibility but to seek engagement from the local authority. I would welcome such engagement but we all know that due to the fact that the economy got into difficulties and the Deputy's party in government destroyed the public finances, the amount of funding available to local authorities to meet accommodation and housing needs across the community - not only among former members of the Defence Forces - is terribly limited, unfortunately. I wish there were more funding. Perhaps if there had been greater economic intelligence in government in the years between 2000 and 2011, we would not have found ourselves in this position and we would have the type of public authority housing building programme that all of us in the Government would like to see, rather than engagement in this sort of cynical play-acting in the House.

Defence Forces Deployment

Mick Wallace


5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Defence the number of occasions in 2013 on which An Garda Síochána requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5576/14]

Most people realise that funding is scarce, but that is all the more reason to ask why the State continues to spend money facilitating war efforts through Shannon Airport. People in the Curragh are being threatened with eviction from their homes, yet we can still find money to facilitate a war effort that has resulted in the slaughter of more than 1 million people.

The Deputy's question is about the number of occasions in 2013 on which the Garda Síochána requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport. It does not reference war efforts or 1 million people being slaughtered. I do not know where the Deputy thinks 1 million people have been slaughtered or why anything happening in Shannon Airport has resulted in that slaughter.

In the context of the actual question the Deputy raised, the answer is as follows. An Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including protection of the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power, or ATCP for short, which in practice means to assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so.

The Defence Forces have provided assistance to An Garda Síochána at Shannon Airport since 2003. In 2013, Defence Force personnel were deployed to Shannon Airport on 324 occasions in response to requests for support from An Garda Síochána. The length of each such deployment and the number of relevant aircraft that land and take off during each deployment can vary. For example, on a given day troops may be deployed to Shannon Airport once, but the mission as formally requested by the Garda may relate to the arrival and departure of more than one aircraft. On other occasions, for example, if a single aircraft is on the ground for an extended period, perhaps overnight, this may involve two or more deployments of troops, as each shift is generally of 12 hours' duration.

It is amazing to learn that the Defence Forces were called on 324 occasions. As the Minister is aware, Margaretta D'Arcy is still in prison. It is interesting to note the comments of the former UN Assistant Secretary General, who highlighted that Ms D'Arcy's refusal to sign a bond not to return to Shannon Airport is based on her belief in the Nuremberg principle of 1945 whereby individual citizens of any country have international duties and responsibilities that transcend national and domestic obligations of obedience to local law. If commonsense were to prevail, would this 79 year old woman not be released? What purpose is being served by her imprisonment? The Minister can argue that she cannot be released because the law is the law, but if the law were black and white, we would not need judges. It seems a strange call on the part of the State that a 79 year old woman has been locked up, especially given the number of people who were responsible for deaths and have not seen the inside of a prison.

From the Deputy's engagement with the courts, we know he has no respect for the law. He is now raising issues that fall within the brief of the justice area, but I am happy to deal with them. What he has just said is untrue. He stated that the person he named had been asked to sign a bond not to return to Shannon Airport. That is entirely untrue. What the person has been asked to do is to sign a bond to keep the peace. A condition of her release was that she does not enter a portion of Shannon Airport excluded to the general public. She is perfectly entitled to be in any part of Shannon Airport that is open to the general public. If common sense were operating and the lady in question were not being used by a small group of individuals as a campaigning tool in the context of the issue the Deputy referenced earlier, common sense would have prevailed and she would have signed a bond to keep the peace. If she wished to attend at Shannon Airport and behave in a lawful way, she could do so. There is no question of her signing a bond.

It is offensive in the context of this issue to reference Nuremberg, and I wonder why the Deputy feels the need to make that reference in questions he puts to me. I am very interested and he might clarify that.

I must not say too much else because my understanding is that a further prosecution is pending in the case of a similar difficulty. My responsibility is to ensure that individuals do not wander out onto the runways in Shannon Airport, placing their lives at risk and possibly placing at risk the lives of 200 or 300 passengers. What would happen if the lady in question, accompanied by her some of her friends, were to wander onto a runway, God forbid, as an aeroplane was landing? If the pilot sought to avoid killing them and, as a consequence, the aeroplane crashed and 200 or 300 people died, would the Deputy take responsibility for that?

The Minister informed the House that the Defence Forces were called to Shannon Airport 324 times in 2013. The airport also has access to a strong Garda force. He tells us that to keep a 79 year old woman on a Zimmer frame off the runway, she has to be put in jail. What planet is the Minister living on?

The Minister can throw as many personal jibes at me as he likes about issues I have had with the law and he can claim I am a law-breaker. I could throw stuff across the floor at him but I am not remotely interested in getting personal with him. He is letting himself down. I do not understand the reason he takes such an approach.

Will the Minister consider meeting Margaretta D'Arcy? She has a mind of her own and is not being used by anybody. She is in prison in Limerick and it would be a good move for the Minister to sit down and have a chat with her.

The Deputy is consistently personal with me, but that is his prerogative. I note he did not explain his reference to Nuremberg. I know exactly why he is making that reference. He should have the courage to explain where he is coming from when he makes that reference.

In relation to this particular issue, a court order was made and was not appealed, as I noted previously. Margaretta D'Arcy could be released from prison later today or tomorrow morning if she signs the bond, as directed by the judge. There would be no reason for her to be in prison if she complied with the condition of staying off the runway.

I do not know whether Margaretta D'Arcy uses a Zimmer frame. Does the Deputy seriously think it is in the public interest for an elderly person, regardless of the strength of her views on any issue, to have a free licence to go onto a runway - with or without a Zimmer frame - when an aeroplane could be landing, thereby placing at risk her life and the lives of others? This is not about age; it is about responsibility. I have a responsibility to ensure the safety of airline travellers and the general public is not jeopardised. Common sense would dictate that the lady in question would sign the bond and the matter would end.