Nine US military flights overnight in Shannon without Covid checks

The troops stayed overnight in a Limerick hotel after landing at Shannon Airport without the legally required evidence of negative PCR tests or passenger locator forms
Nine US military flights overnight in Shannon without Covid checks

There have been nine instances of US troops stopping overnight at Shannon Airport with around one military flight landing per day this year. Picture: John Cogill/AP

There have been nine instances of US troops stopping overnight at Shannon Airport with around one military flight landing per day this year.

The issue was brought into focus last month when the Irish Examiner revealed that US authorities apologised to the Government for an incident in which US military personnel breached Irish Covid-19 regulations.

The troops stayed overnight in a Limerick hotel after landing at Shannon Airport without the legally required evidence of negative PCR tests or passenger locator forms.

Two further planeloads were reported to have stayed overnight in the days after the January 9 incident, including one which occurred on February 8, four days after the US apology.

All flights which land in Ireland require clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney for the number of flights that had been granted this clearance this year.

The response reads: "Between 1 January and 17 February 2021, diplomatic clearance has been provided for landings of forty-four foreign military aircraft in Ireland."

While there is no breakdown of the nationality of these flights, Mr Coveney answered another parliamentary question from independent TD Catherine Connolly which showed that 28 of the landings were in January — 25 from the US, two from the Netherlands and one from Switzerland.

In response to subsequent questions from the Irish Examiner, the Department said that nine of the flights, all American, had stayed overnight up to the end of February.

Since 1 January 2021, there have been nine instances of landings at Shannon of foreign military aircraft which involved stopovers. All were US military flights.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs informs all embassies accredited to Ireland of changes to public health requirements, including with regard to landings of foreign military aircraft. 

"This Department has no function in relation to oversight of compliance with public health regulations. 

"The Department has also emphasised to US authorities that crew and passengers of military flights are bound to observe public health regulations in exactly the same way as those on civilian flights. 

"The US authorities apologised on 4 February for breaches which had occurred, and committed to full compliance."

Mr Murphy said that the figures showed the strategic importance of the airport to the US.

"I think all US military flights through Shannon should be banned but the very least they need to do is enforce the Covid rules that are there, rather than just them asking nicely to follow the rules."

An earlier response from the department said that the February 8 landing did not breach Covid guidelines because those on board were flight crew. 

However, the Department said that it does not monitor compliance of those staying overnight in local accommodation.

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