An RTE News story published last Friday (13 August) confirms Shannonwatch recordings of over three US military flights a day passing through Shannon Airport. The report, which is based on data supplied by the US Department of Defence, sets the number of troops that passed through the airport from 2001 up to the end of last January at over 2 million. More significantly however, information received by RTE indicates that the US military would have been willing to withdraw from its use of Shannon Airport several years ago but the Irish Government did not want them to do so.
Far from being under pressure from the US to keep the Shannon military stopover, it now seems that the Fianna Fail lead government was told by the US that they would quit if asked. The Irish government lead first by Bertie Ahern, then Brian Cowan, ignored the wishes of the 100,000 people who marched in Dublin in 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. Moreover, an independent national survey carried out in 2007 showed that a decisive majority of Irish people were against the use of Shannon Airport by US troops travelling to and from Iraq.
Nonetheless, the Irish government worked covertly and consistently to keep the US military at Shannon. The justification they gave - that they didn't want anyone thinking that the "protestors" had won - is both insincere and undemocratic. If they had any desire to uphold Irish neutrality and not be part of the appalling suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan they would have found a way to ask them to leave. And the Irish and US governments' public relations folk could spin it in whatever way they wanted.
The current Irish government are not without blame either. Even though the Programme for Government says they will "enforce the prohibition on the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law" they have not done so. In fact Pat Breen TD (Fine Gael) stated in a interview on Today FM's The Last Word programme on Friday that his party has always approved of military personnel going through Shannon. This is at odds with an assurance given by Eamon Gilmore at the Labour Party Special Congress on 5th March, when he confirmed that the Programme for Government statement means exactly what it says.
Six month into the present government's tenure, the US military are still taking plane loads of armed troops through Shannon every day.
Eamon Gilmore who is now Tainiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs knows that Shannon is in violation of a range of international laws including the Hague Convention on Neutrality. But he could end the ongoing violations - and the role Ireland is playing in a deadly and destructive war in Afghanistan - now. If the US military were willing to stop using Shanon a few years ago, there is no reason why they would not still be willing to do so.
All any Irish government has to do is to implement the wishes of the Irish people and ask the US military to stop using Shannon.