“It is simply not the case that the U.S. is using Shannon to transit large quantities of arms to the (Persian) Gulf,” Cowen said.
The minister’s statement followed concerns expressed by opposition politicians and anti-war activists who have set up a peace camp at Shannon.
They claim the military traffic is breaching Irish neutrality and is making Shannon a potential terrorist target.
“It has been indicated to us that troops traveling on civilian aircraft are sometimes accompanied by their personal weapons which are carried in the hold of the aircraft,” Cowen said.
“However, they do not carry ammunition and they do not bring their weapons into the airport buildings.
“My officials have been in touch with the U.S. authorities to ensure that civilian carriers are reminded of their obligation to seek permission for the transit of weapons and ammunition through Irish airports.
“The U.S. is a friendly country and we do not seek to board US military aircraft or aircraft carrying U.S. personnel in order to verify their declared cargo.”
Shannon was chosen by the U.S. because it offered a quick turnaround with efficient and friendly service.
Cowen said there had been only one request in the whole of last year for the landing at Shannon of a civilian aircraft leased by the U.S. military that was carrying munitions.
A significant proportion of U.S. military aircraft landing at Shannon are VIP transports and refueling planes, he said. The remainder are cargo planes, none of which in the “recent past” was declared as carrying munitions.
He confirmed U.S. troops have been permitted to wear uniforms in the transit area, but further permission is needed to wear them outside these areas.
Cowen emphasized that, at present, the government had no intention of altering existing arrangements regarding overflights and landings.
If the U.N. decided to sanction military action against Iraq, or if any military action was taken, the policy would be reviewed and brought before the Dail.
Earlier, Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Gay Mitchell said that during the Gulf War the D