Govt pressed over US military use of Shannon Airport

The Government came under further pressure today to check if terrorist suspects are being carried through Shannon Airport onboard US warplanes.

The Government came under further pressure today to check if terrorist suspects are being carried through Shannon Airport onboard US warplanes.

Opposition Dáil TDs want gardaí to inspect the military aircraft to ensure that prisoners are not being transported through Irish air space contrary to international law.

Former Labour leader Ruairi Quinn today said the state must satisfy itself that no illegal activity is taking place within the sovereign territory of the Irish Republic.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern told the Dáil last week that US officials had constantly assured his department that no hostages were being transported through Shannon.

Mr Quinn estimates up to 1,000 US military planes will refuel in Shannon during 2005.

In a strong attack on the superpower, he told RTE Radio: “The US is allegedly - and it hasn’t denied this – kidnapping individuals in certain countries suspected of terrorist offences and transporting them illegally in terms of international law, to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

“We believe it is torturing them or holding them in conditions which are outside the terms of the Geneva Convention.

“The Irish Government has an obligation to ensure that we’re not complicit in any way in assisting this set of illegal practices.”

The Dublin TD warned that the US was increasingly moving towards a unilateralist position where it does not feel bound by international law.

“This is dangerous for everybody including the US itself,” he said.

“We have to send a message to our friends in the US that that no matter how big the superpower is, it must be bound by the rules of law.

“If it takes upon itself the power to do what it chooses to do because it’s big enough to do it, it cannot expect other countries not to follow the same example and that’s the road of anarchy.”

Mr Quinn, a member of Amnesty International, said Ireland had a proud record on international peacekeeping and overseas aid and needed to ensure international laws were not being broken within its territory.

“We need to be friendly with the US but we need to persuade them even through this small measure that they have to observe international law like everybody else,” he said.

Questioning Dermot Ahern on the issue in the Dáil last week, Green Party chairman John Gormley accused the Government of adopting a hypocritical ’hear no evil, see no evil’ attitude in relation to the US aircraft.

Mr Ahern urged individuals to come forward with concrete evidence of anything illegal happening at Shannon.

He told the Dáil: “If any citizen or other person has specific evidence that Shannon or any other Irish airport is being used for [transporting prisoners], it should be shared with the garda authorities.”

“There is absolutely no evidence brought to us by anybody.

“When the US Government gave us categoric assurances as late as late week, we accept those.”

Mr Gormley also queried if weapons were being transported through Shannon as he claimed 70% of US troops serving in Iraq had passed through the airport.

Rebutting recent media reports, Mr Ahern said that the office of the UN Commission on Human Rights had confirmed to his department that it was not investigating US military stop-overs at Shannon.

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