UN inspectors need more time, says Ahern

Ireland would support requests by UN weapons inspectors for more time to investigate Iraq’s weapons programme, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today said.

Ireland would support requests by UN weapons inspectors for more time to investigate Iraq’s weapons programme, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today said.

“Let’s wait to see what Hans Blix says rather than pre-empting it,” the Taoiseach said in Dublin.

“But if he believes that he needs more time and if the Security Council feels that he needs more time then that is a matter we would be supportive of.”

He said that once Dr Blix had published his report it would then be necessary to wait for the reaction of Kofi Annan and the Security Council.

“I’m sure that people will listen to Kofi Annan and others who are urging the involvement of the Security Council,” Mr Ahern added.

Mr Ahern also repeated the Government’s stance on the use of Ireland’s Shannon airport as a refuelling base for planes carrying US military personnel to the Gulf region.

He said that civilian aircraft carrying military personnel without arms did not need to ask the Government to use Shannon, but that those carrying munitions of any kind needed to seek permission.

Opposition politicians today called on Mr Ahern to clear up the “legal and political quagmire” surrounding the debate over the use of the airport.

Protesters have been mounting demonstrations in recent weeks at the use of the airport, arguing that it breaches Ireland’s tradition of military neutrality.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Roisin Shortall said news that Transport Minister Seamus Brennan had given civilian aircraft permission to transport munitions through Shannon “flew in the face” of other Government statements.

“The increased use of Shannon Airport in recent weeks and months has generated a high level of public unease about the apparent complicity of the Irish Government in the build-up to a potential war in Iraq,” she said.

“The conflicting statements from Ministers have only fuelled that unease.”

Ms Shortall said the Taoiseach should make the issue a matter of priority when the Dail resumes on Wednesday – even though he has postponed the debate until next week.

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