The country’s neutrality has been “eroded by successive governments” and it is now time for a national debate on the issue.
That is according to one of the country’s leading security experts, who says he is not surprised that the RAF would intervene in a terrorist hijacking of a plane in our airspace because we do not have the capability to deal with such an incident. He described Ireland as “Europe’s weakest link when it comes to intelligence-gathering and defence”.
Tom Clonan, a former army officer, said that, in an extreme emergency, such as a mid-air hijack, “it was essential we have recourse to our neighbour’s assets”.
He made the comment after the Irish Examine revealed that a deal had been struck between the British and Irish governments whereby the RAF would shoot down a hijacked commercial airliner in our airspace if it appeared that terrorists were preparing to use it in a 9/11-style attack.
The Air Corps does not have jet fighters and would not be capable of intercepting a commercial jet airliner.
Mr Clonan said a greater debate was needed on the whole neutrality issue because Ireland had shifted towards an alliance with Britain, Europe, and the US — the latter moving thousands of troops through Shannon on route to Afghanistan.
“We have been the lucky generation, but political stability is coming to an end, with tensions increasing between Russia and the Baltic States, and maybe because of the possibility of having somebody like [Donald] Trump in the White House,” said Mr Clonan.
He said years of government underspending had left the Defence Forces without proper IT and it was “now not fit for purpose because of a huge brain drain”.
Irish Neutrality Alliance chairman Roger Cole said no agreement with the British, or any other government, on air defence should have been made without first getting agreement from the Dáil.
“There shouldn’t be deals done in secret,” he said.
Independent TD Mick Wallace said the public “was being kept in the dark on many things” and he was not in favour of the RAF shooting down hijacked planes in our airspace.
He said he would be concerned about intelligence services making a decision to shoot down a hijacked jet on the hunch that it might be deliberately flown into a target on the ground.
“Intelligence services on this planet have got it wrong many times before. If they’d got it right then 9/11 would never have happened,” said Mr Wallace.
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