Friday, October 18, 2013

US breaches Irish Neutrality:

                                                   US Hercules at Shannon Airport


In a statement to Dail Eireann on October 15, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore admitted a breach of Irish Neutrality by the United States on September 5, 2013, when an externally armed US Hercules C130 aircraft was landed at Shannon Airprort contrary to Irish and International Law and assurances given to Ireland previously by the US Government:

An armed US military aircraft stopped at Shannon airport early last month in breach of Government rules prohibiting planes carrying weapons from landing in Ireland or flying through Irish airspace." Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore revealed concerning details of an aircraft “armed with a fixed weapon” landing at Shannon, in a reply to a parliamentary question this week.

The aircraft landed on September 5th after clearance paperwork submitted by the US supposedly "mislabeled" the type of aircraft requesting landing rights at the airport, which has been frequently used by American military personnel travelling between the United States and war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When contacted by officials of DFA the US embassy said that it regretted the incident and said that new procedures had been “put in place to ensure such errors do not take place in the future”.

The US Embassy declined to answer questions about the type of aircraft or weapon on the plane or where the aircraft had flown from or its destination.
The aircraft landed at Shannon at a time when the US was pressing foreign leaders to support military action against Syria over the use of chemical weapons.

Mr Gilmore said that the Garda and Defence Forces providing security at the airport reported that a US military aircraft, which had landed, was “visibly armed”. Following an investigation, a senior department official expressed “strong concern” with the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires, the temporary stand-in for the vacant Ambassador’s role, at a meeting. The official made clear to the US representative that “the Irish Government views breaches such as the one that occurred as a matter of the utmost seriousness”, Mr Gilmore said. “It would appear that this was an isolated incident which took place as a result of an administrative error and I have noted the steps taken by the US authorities to ensure that there is no recurrence.”

The Tánaiste said that the system for dealing with requests for landing by US aircraft in Shannon was being fully implemented and “kept under regular review” to ensure it complies with Irish law. “The US authorities have no difficulties with this approach and indeed have expressed their concern to ensure that they are acting in full accordance with our requirements,” he said.

Gilmore's statement was challenged by Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) International Secretary, Edward Horgan, who issued the following statement:

 "Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore stated in the Dail on 15th October that a US military aircraft “armed with a fixed weapon” landed at Shannon. This incident is believed to have occurred on 5th September 2013 and probably involved a Hercules Lockheed C130W combat aircraft. The Minister claimed that “It would appear that this was an isolated incident which took place as a result of an administrative error and I have noted the steps taken by the US authorities to ensure that there is no recurrence.” This statement by Minister Gilmore lacks credibility. 

The only reason that this incident has been made public is that the weapon was externally mounted on the aircraft, and the Gardai and Irish Army who were inappropriately guarding this aircraft could not have avoided seeing this weapon, and the Minister was likely aware that the matter was about be publicised. Minister Gilmore has repeatedly stated that US military aircraft being refuelled at Shannon “are unarmed, carrying no arms, ammunition or explosives, not engaged in intelligence gathering, and not part of any military exercises or operations at Shannon”. 

This is false information on several counts. The vast majority of US soldiers, including military air crews and US military aircraft, traveling through Shannon are either engaged in military exercises or on their way to or from military operations. These personnel virtually never travel abroad on such missions without carrying with them their personal hand-held weapons such as assault rifles and pistols and associated ammunition. These modern assault rifles are personal issue to each soldier and are taken with them to and from each mission. In addition the US military cargo aircraft being refueled almost daily at Shannon airport are not crossing the Atlantic towards the Middle East carrying harmless materials. Their sole purpose is to carry armed soldiers and war materials, including dangerous munitions.
All this is in clear breach of Irish neutrality, and of international laws on neutrality, and in addition presents dangers to workers and the public at Shannon airport who are exposed to serious dangers because Shannon airport is not designed for such dangerous explosive air cargoes.
The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance calls for the long-term prohibition of all foreign military use of Shannon airport and for 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 Airport". 

The Tanaiste's admission that an externally armed US military aircraft landed at Shannon Airport in breach of Irish Neutrality and Irish and International Law is seriously disturbing.

The description of this event as an“isolated incident” is contradicted by events at the Airport over this year in particular.  In February this year, members of PANA, and Shannonwatch, who monitor US military activity at the Airport, accompanied by Colonel Ann Wright (US Army retd.) observed a US Hercules C130 aircraft on the tarmac, near the Control Tower, from which aircraft armed and uniformed (camouflage) US military personnel could be seen disembarking and embarking at various times. This breach of Irish Law,  the Defence Act 1954, was pointed out to a Garda Sergeant who was also present but, who failed to take any action when he was requested to search the aircraft.

A number of other such incidents have been observed and reported by Shannonwatch observers and in no case have either Gardai or Defence Force personnel taken any action to enforce Irish Law against these scandalous breaches of our sovereignty indulged in with impunity by the US Military despite what the Tanaiste stated in Dail Eireann. In each case reports were made to Gardai on the spot which were met by silence and inaction.

The Irish Government should withdraw landing and refueling facilities for US Military aircraft at Shannon Airport forthwith, except in cases of emergency, as the assurances on compliance with law and regulations from the US Government and its Embassy in Dublin are worthless and an insult to the sovereign rights of the Irish people.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Referendum defeat for Irish Government:


The Government’s proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate) was defeated in yesterday’s Referendum. On a poll just short of 40% the result was: Yes: 591,937 (48.3%), NO: 634,437 (51.7%).

There was a clear east-west geographic divide in the country with Dublin and the eastern counties voting solid NO and southern and western counties voting Yes, but, only by the narrowest of margins in most cases.

No Dublin constituency recorded a Yes vote, a staggering defeat for the coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. For Labour, already under severe pressure because of the IMF/EU austerity budgets and showing only 6% support in the latest opinion polls this bodes badly for their chances in next year’s local government and European Parliament elections when the results of this referendum will still be fresh in voters’ memory.

Analysis will continue in the next few weeks of the various aspects of the NO vote, a cross-party, non ideological event but, a clear implication of serious mistrust of government intentions whatever proposal is being put forward. The political credibility of An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, is severely dented since this proposal was initiated by him as a personal project and pursued without much logical input from himself and with a damaging refusal to engage in any public debate about the issue he was asking the electorate to support.

With large quantities of egg-on-face, the Government must now deal with a hostile public and a coterie of hostile but determined and intellectually able Senators who campaigned against the abolition and who managed to throw out a government measure the day before the Referendum. The Government have already set-up a “Constitutional Convention” to discuss amendments to the Constitution but, for unknown reasons failed to submit their senate abolition proposal to this body, a political mistake as now demonstrated by today’s result.

Even though the Government has a comfortable majority in Dáil Éireann, the lower house, this has been fraying at the edges with four Labour members and four Fine Gael members already outside the Party whip adding to their many political headaches as the next electoral test looms in 2014. Further, next week’s State Budget is likely to be as controversial as the previous ones even though it is the last of the IMF/EU supervised ones. The economy has not grown sufficiently fast for a relaxing of the constraints on State finances which would allow them to try to restore some political popularity in the short term.

In a typically opportunist but, astute move Opposition Leader, Mícheál Martin’s, Fianna Fáil Party, which led the previous government of boom and then bust, took up the NO side campaign, a novelty for them since they have spent the last forty years campaigning for YES votes on every occasion for further integration with the unelected Brussels Bureaucracy and fully supported the militarisation of Europe as well.

The result is also a setback for rising Opposition party, Sinn Féin, who now seemed to have made a serious tactical mistake in joining the YES Campaign despite earlier instinctive misgivings by party leader, Gerry Adams.

All this makes for an interesting political scene in Ireland for the next few months.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Vote NO in Referendum:


Today’s Referendum on abolition of Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate) the second house of the Oireachtas (Legislature) purports to be a “reform” but is merely a power-grab by the government with the largest majority ever in the history of the State and citizens should carefully consider whether they want this government to have untrammelled power without possibility of legislative scrutiny which, admittedly in limited fashion, was provided by Seanad Éireann since it was established in the 1937 Constitution.
The Government case is based on the narrowness of the electorate which elects the members and the cost, which they have stated is €20M but, this has been proven to be greatly exaggerated by political observers. Since the form of election is entirely a matter for the politicians it is they who are responsible for the failures to reform the system over 75 years not the Seanad itself, which has always been controlled by the parties in the other house, Dáil Éireann.
Their proposed abolition amendments to be voted on today have not been discussed in any detail in any public forum and the sneaky abolition of Article 27 of the Constitution which provides for a petition to the President to proclaim a referendum on any Dáil bill which a proportion of members consider should be referred to the people has not been debated except on last night’s Vincent Browne debate on TV3. No mention ever given on national broadcaster RTÉ.
The Government has not proposed any alternative legislative proposals other than vague promises to give additional powers to parliamentary committees which will still have the party whip applied and the majority of chairpersons still nominated by the Government. So much for “reform” which has been the main slogan of the government supporters in this referendum. With their overwhelming majority in Dáil Éireann they can easily ignore the Opposition and carry on as usual but, without even the feeble voices in the Seanad to question their authority. In effect, they are asking for a blank cheque from the people in this political scam.
No government should be given blank cheques! Let them put their money where their mouth is and produce genuine reform legislative proposals which can be seen and debated in public. Therefore, vote NO in today’s referendum.