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Ireland Gives Peace Award to the US Secretary of State While Supporting His Government’s Warmongering

Last weekend (October 30th) US Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Ireland to collect a peace award from the Tipperary Peace Convention. His airplane touched down at Shannon Airport on the west coast, and from there he was whisked off to meet the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, before accepting his award. He was even treated to some sycophantic Irish conviviality in a roadside pub, although this experience was perhaps not as relaxing as he would have expected since he was also compelled to listen to some truths about US warmongering by a small but vocal group of real peace activists.

On the face of it, it seems surprising that the US Secretary of State would bother to spend half a day in Ireland accepting a minor peace award. But on another level it’s not so surprising. Over the last decade and a half Ireland has played a significant role in US military aggression. In particular Shannon Airport, where John Kerry’s plane landed, has become what security analyst and academic Dr Tom Clonan calls a virtual forward operating base for ongoing operations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Over two and a half million US troops have passed through Shannon in the last 15 years at a cost of over €20 million for police and Defence Forces security. Add to that an unpaid bill of over €40 million in aviation fees and air traffic control expenses for US military aircraft passing through airspace to combat missions in the Middle East and Asia.

Shannon Airport has had daily landings of US military transport aircraft, mid-air refuelling tankers and other Air Force, Navy and Army aircraft since 2002. On October 26th alone there were no fewer than five lined up at the airport. These included two US Navy C-40 transport aircraft that had arrived the previous night from Sigonella air base in Sicily (Italy). Earlier in the week several troop carriers had also passed through. Indeed US troop and cargo carriers like Omni Air International that have what are called “indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity” contracts to provide international airlift services to the US military have become one of the more frequent users of the airport. When Ireland became a member of the “coalition of the willing” assembled by the US for its global “war on terror” in 2001, these airplanes started to appear at the otherwise quiet civilian airport. They were initially taking occupation forces to and from Afghanistan but before long the airport was also providing fully fledged support for the US led war in Iraq. The American military at US Europe Command Headquarters in Stuttgart even assigned a permanent staff officer to Shannon Airport in 2002. Since then there have been daily troop flights, mostly on Omni Air chartered flights. These are officially categorised as “civilian” but nonetheless permits are granted to allow them to carry weapons, and in some cases ammunition.

Ironically the Irish government insists that the US military aircraft operated directly by the US Air Force and Navy that land at Shannon are not engaged in military operations or carrying weapons. This is despite the fact that a US Navy aircraft with a visible 30mm cannon was photographed at Shannon on Sept 5th 2013, while on Feb 28th 2015 an EC-130H airborne tactical weapon system used to disrupt enemy command and control communications was recorded there.

Over the last 15 years US actions around the globe have, by and large, been heavy-handed and counter-productive. Afghanistan is a prime example; the post Sept 11 US invasion led to increased levels of corruption and drugs production, ongoing civilian deaths, and no improvement in the human rights situation. Yet Ireland continues to support this failed policy like an obedient lapdog despite it being morally indefensible and despite Ireland’s long-standing policy of neutrality. The Irish people have consistently held neutrality dear; a national poll conducted in March 2016 found that 57% of the population oppose the US military presence at Shannon. Nonetheless the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties that have between them controlled government since the 1930’s have both presided over the ongoing erosion of Irish neutrality since 2002.

Not only does the Irish government not have a democratic mandate for its policy of supporting US-led wars, it also doesn’t have legal authority to do so. A 2003 High Court judgement, Horgan v An Taoiseach, stated that Ireland was in breach of the Hague Convention on neutrality by allowing US troops to use Shannon Airport on their way to and from the war in Iraq. The judgment highlighted the fact that a neutral state may not permit the movement of large numbers of troops or munitions of one belligerent State through its territory en route to a theatre of war. But this is precisely what Ireland has been doing for the last 15 years.

There is a clear lack of accountability in relation to the US military use of Shannon. The Department of Foreign Affairs refuses to reveal what military planes have landed. Citing “the creation and maintenance of trust and confidence between governments” the department said earlier this year that they would not provide records requested under freedom of information because it would hamper the international relations of the State. This refusal to provide a list of the US military planes that passed through Shannon or Irish airspace amounts to a cover-up of Irish support for a foreign military power and an attempt to deny our involvement in ongoing wars of aggression in the Middle East.

The ongoing refusal to provide details of Irish complicity in US wars follows years of denials about CIA rendition planes that also landed at Shannon. The regularity with which these passed through the airport has been documented by (among others) Amnesty International, the European Parliament and the Rendition Project. Local activists have made scores of official complaints to the authorities about known or suspect aircraft landings over the years. Yet the police failed to take action or to those responsible for serious human rights violations to justice when they walked through the reception lounges at Shannon.

Given the public disquiet with the ongoing US military use of Shannon, it is perhaps not surprising that the Secretary of State would take the time to shore up official Irish for the next round of US assaults on the Middle East under a Clinton administration by accepting an Irish peace award. The Tipperary Peace Award which he received is intended to honour those who “devote their lives to ending conflict and promoting human rights”. But while his involvement with Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other anti-war initiatives are commendable, holding one of the highest offices in a country that is currently at war and responsible for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia makes him utterly undeserving of a peace award. And it is to official Ireland’s shame that it would give him one.

In 2003 over 100,000 people marched in the Irish capital Dublin to protest against the Iraq war. In 2016 the armed US soldiers are still passing through Shannon Airport, despite the lip service paid to ideals of peace founded on international justice and morality, and the principles of international law, in the review of Irish foreign policy launched by the government at the start of 2015. Indeed as Ireland supports bombing campaigns and military occupations throughout the Middle East, it is also shutting its doors to the refugees fleeing from the war zones. Despite its promises to welcome 4,000 refugees to Ireland the number accepted has been in the low hundreds. Even as Minister Charlie Flanagan gushingly praised Secretary of State Kerry’s outstanding record of public service and his “enormous commitment to finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria”, he failed to respond to a proposal that Ireland should welcome 200 unaccompanied child refugees from the dismantled ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais.

Over 200 armed US soldiers a day are welcome at Shannon Airport. But the same number of vulnerable children whose homes, families and lives have been destroyed by war are not welcome. Where’s the justice and morality in that?

Please sign this World Beyond War petition calling on the governments of Ireland and the United States to end the military use of Shannon Airport immediately, not for the sake of Irish neutrality, but for the millions of people being killed and violently displaced from their homes by war.

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John Lannon is an organizer of Shannonwatch.

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