This was a debate in the Dail, the Dublin parliament, on Wednesday 29/1/3
Mr. J. Higgins: Why has the Taoiseach, as leader of the Government, and not primarily the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Transport, colluded in flagrant and persistent breaches of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973, which expressly prohibits weapons of destruction or munitions of war to pass through our airports without permission? Does the Taoiseach realise the anger among ordinary citizens over the blatant dishonesty of his Government in respect of the way Shannon Airport has been allowed to be used by the US military?
Last night the Department of Transport admitted that, in the eight days up to Monday, 19 aircraft carrying weapons or munitions of war sought and were given permission to land at Shannon Airport. For the whole of last year, one single aircraft notified that it was carrying weapons and was given permission to land. Were the other 552 military aircraft - mainly US aircraft - that used Shannon Airport last year carrying only soggy lollipops or did the Government recklessly allow the US military to flout, persistently and with contempt, the regulations governing the transport of munitions of war through our airports?
Does the Taoiseach know what weapons were carried through Shannon in those planes? He is very much in favour of inspecting the weapons or alleged weapons of destruction of the horrific dictator Saddam Hussein. Why did he not carry out an inspection of the planes using Shannon? Did a single inspection take place or is it the case that a blind eye was deliberately turned to the hundreds of aircraft which were undoubtedly carrying huge quantities of arms without permission and in breach of regulations?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy stated that one aeroplane went through last year, but my information is that 30 aircraft were given permission to carry weapons or munitions last year. I do not agree with the Deputy's assertions. The arrangements whereby Shannon is used as a refuelling stop by the US military have been in place for many years under successive Governments. As the Deputy knows - I told him before Christmas - we do not board the aircraft of friendly countries to check precisely what is on them. There has been a working arrangement for 40 years which has operated well. The United States of America knows what the regulations are and the Minister for Foreign Affairs reiterated them some weeks ago. The airlines involved were reminded of their legal requirements and they go through a procedure which we have always followed.
US military aircraft have been granted permission to land at Shannon according to the requirements of the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, for a number of decades. It has been the practice for commercial charter aircraft carrying US service men between the USA and overseas bases to refuel at Shannon. Refuelling aircraft which travel all over the world constitute about 40% of the activity at Shannon Airport. Such activity has always gone on. The regulations are set down and I do not see anything wrong with them. If a war arose, the Government would review the matter, but no additional facilities have been requested by the USA over and above the standing arrangements. If I believed the Americans were storing weapons of mass destruction at Shannon Airport and hiding them from the United Nations inspectors, I would take a different view. That is why I am very concerned about the fact that Saddam Hussein has held such weapons for many years which he has
Mr. J. Higgins: It was the United Nations that gave him those weapons in the first place.
The Taoiseach: He has used them against his people and all we are trying to do is get him to comply with international law. It is a good thing to help to force him into that.
Mr. J. Higgins: I am reminded of what a farmer said recently about a different member of the Government. Asking the Taoiseach a question is like trying to play handball against a haystack. You hear a dull thud and the ball does not come back to you. It goes all over the world, but it certainly does not come back to the person asking the question.
I would like a specific answer from the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach knows that President Bush, the fundamentalists who surround him and his fellow fundamentalist, Prime Minister Blair, intend to attack Iraq no matter what. He should be very clear that they have made up their minds. He knows that doing so will wreak havoc on the peoples of Iraq and has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but is about oil, power and influence in the world. By colluding with that by facilitating the US military build-up, the Taoiseach will have on his hands the blood of the innocent Iraqi people who will undoubtedly be slaughtered.
The Taoiseach now says that 30 aircraft passing through our airports, mainly Shannon, notified that they were carrying munitions of war and were given permission to land. The other 532 aircraft neither sought nor received permission to carry munitions of war. Will the Taoiseach tell the Dáil that those aeroplanes, whether freight or passenger craft, did not have any weapons on board or munitions designed to wreak havoc on people or property?
The Taoiseach: I am satisfied the regulations were followed.
Mr. J. Higgins: What changed last week?
The Taoiseach: Due to a recent increase in the number of aircraft, the Minister reiterated the message. What might have changed is that there is a more difficult state of affairs where they are going now. The Deputy says I will not answer his first question. If Saddam Hussein changes the regulations, complies with the inspectors, international law and the UN mandate, we will not have this problem.
Mr. J. Higgins: It is not about weapons of mass destruction.
The Taoiseach: We will not have this problem if he complies in a very friendly way with the inspectors who stated that he has been helpful in process but not in substance. They have urged the Security Council, the USA and the UK to hold back. If he complies with them fully, none of us will have a problem-----
Mr. J. Higgins: The Taoiseach knows what this is about.
The Taoiseach:-----and the Deputy will not have to get excited about it. The Deputy is totally against the United States of America in every regard.
Mr. J. Higgins: I am not against the United States.
Mr. Gogarty: We are against the Bush Administration.
The Taoiseach: I am against Saddam Hussein and both of us will get our way.
Mr. J. Higgins: I have been against Saddam Hussein since before the Taoiseach even knew he existed.
Mr. Gogarty: The majority of Americans are against this war.
The Taoiseach: We will not have a war and we will have no difficulties if Saddam Hussein complies with UN Resolution 1441 of 8 November which was passed by all 14 members of the Security Council. The entire world cannot be wrong. One dictator is wrong and he is a man who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and who has lost 6,500 chemical bombs. Let us be realistic. The Deputy should not stand up in this House to defend the indefensible.
Mr. J. Higgins: Who is defending the indefensible?
Mr. M. Smith: The Deputy is.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy should use his energy in the same way as everybody else in the world to see that the UN resolution is complied with. That is what we should be trying to do.
Mr. Gogarty: The Taoiseach is worse than the Vichy Government.
Mr. M. Smith: The Deputy should tell that to the Iranian war veterans.
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