Shannon, the US Military and the Irish Constitution

In making an agreement with the U.S. President in relation to the use of Shannon Airport by U.S. forces, Taoiseach Enda Kenny may be contravening the Irish Constitution Article 29.5.1 which states "Every international agreement to which the State becomes a party shall be laid before Dáil Eireann" and Article 29.5.2, "The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Eireann."

Mr Kenny may claim that such an agreement was already in existence, but if that is the case it is questionable whether such agreement has ever been properly approved by Dail Eireann. And even if Dail Eireann appeared to give approval to such an agreement on 20 March 2003, any such agreement may be separately in breach of Articles 28.3.1 of the Constitution, which states: “War shall not be declared and the state shall not participate in any war save with the approval of Dail Eireann”, and Article 29.3 “Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other states.”

This disregard for the Irish Constitution and for international law is a recent phenomenon by Irish Governments, given our past history of promoting compliance with and enhancement of international law. It has recently been revealed that on 13 March 2002, over one year before the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Iraqi Government, that the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made an agreement with US President George W Bush, that US troops would be allowed use Shannon airport in the event of a US invasion of Iraq. (See National Security Watch article by Denis Lehane, April 13th 2011) No such agreement was put before Dail Eireann at the time, and even if it had been approved by Dail Eireann, it would arguably have been in breach of the Constitution.

Such disregard for international has not been unique to Ireland however. The world’s more powerful states such as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have been able to use their UN veto to avoid any sanctions for their breaches of international law. However it ill-behoves small states like Ireland to abuse international laws because as small states they have far greater need for the protection of these laws than the more powerful states.   

Parts of this posting were published in the Irish Examiner on 26 May 2011.

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