ANTI-WAR campaigners in Limerick have said the unauthorised landing of an armed US warplane in Shannon last month proves American assurances over Irish neutrality are “worthless”.
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore confirmed by way of reply to a parliamentary question from Galway TD Derek Nolan that he has raised the issue “at the highest level” with the US government.
Minister Gilmore stated he was “aware of one landing at Shannon Airport...in which a US military aircraft, contrary to notification, was found to be armed with a fixed weapon and did not, therefore, comply with the normal conditions that apply to foreign military aircraft overflying or landing in Ireland. This case was raised at the highest possible level with the US Embassy. The Embassy official explained that this isolated incident had taken place as a result of an administrative error, and assurances were given that steps had been taken to prevent any recurrence”.
Such diplomatic assurances have been greeted with scepticism by Shannonwatch and other anti-war organisations which monitor military traffic through Shannon.
Shannonwatch said the aircraft referred to by the Tanaiste was in a US Air Force Hercules AC-130W, registration 87-9288, which arrived in Shannon on September 5 and departed the following day. Manufacturers Lockheed market the heavy-gunned aircraft, which can also mount missiles, as suited to armed reconnaissance missions.
The US Government has not responded to media queries in recent days on where the aircraft was headed or what it was carrying.
“It’s important to reiterate here that we’re talking about an armed aircraft at Shannon, not a pistol held by the crew, or personal weapons like rifles and pistols that come through all the time,” said John Lannon, Shannonwatch.
“The aircraft in question has a 30mm cannon and a laser-guided missile system. So this is an large weapon, designed to cause great damage and potentially great loss of life. And it was sitting at the airport in Shannon, in ‘neutral’ Ireland.
“This gun was clearly visible and was therefore admitted to by the US Embassy. But there may be other lethal weapons on aircraft at Shannon every day of the week that are not so visible. The Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot continue now with the pretence that the US military are not engaged in military operations when they come through Shannon. He’s got the evidence that should lead to decisive action to end Ireland’s support for US wars and for military interventions not sanctioned by the UN,” added Mr Lannon, Ballyneety.
“Minister Gilmore and the rest of the government cannot continue to accept and repeat assurances from the US embassy about Shannon. They gave assurances that they don’t have weapons on military planes but they have been found out on this occasion. The US also gave assurances to the UK government that they hadn’t used British airports for renditions yet it was discovered that they had”.
“When it comes to international movement of military and CIA operatives and aircraft, US assurances are worthless. So why should we believe their assurances about Shannon and renditions? How long until we hear that there were illegally kidnapped prisoners shackled on planes at Shannon? And will Minister Gilmore call that an administrative error, just like the weaponry,” said Mr Lannon.
Retired army officer and international secretary of the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance Edward Horgan called for the “long-term prohibition of all foreign military use of Shannon Airport and the immediate implementation of a system of random unannounced inspections of US military aircraft at Shannon and of chartered aircraft carrying US troops and US military cargo through Shannon”. Meanwhile, Minister Gilmore’s reply to Deputy Nolan showed that US aircraft accounted for all but 30 of the 366 foreign military aircraft which landed in Irish airports in the first nine months of this year.