By Ray O’Hanlon
The mystery over the fate of the Aer Lingus aircraft St. Phelim, which crashed near Tuskar Rock off Wexford more than 30 years ago, is getting, as they say, curiouser and curiouser and has aroused the serious concern of Enterprise Minister Mary O’Rourke.
First there was the revelation by a former Irish naval officer that a large piece of wreckage was taken away from the crash site by a British warship. Then there are all those British records of the crash investigation, shredded or just, eh, plain missing. And of course the lack of even an Aer Lingus internal report is certain to keep the conspiracy buffs working overtime.
Was it a British missile or target drone that doomed the St. Phelim? Well, Phoenix Magazine suggests that the answer to that might become clearer if investigators look due north from Tuskar. According to the dirt-digging mag, any search should start with the records of the MATS (Military Air Traffic Service) base known as Ulster Radar.
"Located at RAF Bishopscourt on Killard Point, Co. Down, it supervised all air movement in British defensive ‘controlled air space’ from Cape Wrath in Scotland to Land’s End and out as far as 10 degrees west in the Atlantic as part of a NATO project codenamed BOXER."
Nothing above seagull size flew over the Irish Sea without the approval of the Duty Master Controller at Killard, which is near Ardglass, the magazine reported.
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But NATO planes were a dime a dozen in the air at the time, many of them carrying Sidewinder missiles, a weapon that, according to Phoenix, had a habit of flying off in all directions. A Sidewinder once flew 50 miles in the opposite direction from which it was aimed.
Added Phoenix: "A similar missile fired by a U.S. jet brought down an Italian airliner over the Mediterranean in an incident remarkably like the Aer Lingus disaster." Food for thought indeed.
To forsake arms
Neutrality is a hot issue again in Ireland, with Bertie Ahern announcing that Ireland plans to join the NATO-inspired Partnership for Peace military group by the end of the year.
According to a report in the Irish Times, Irish involvement in the PFP will entail peacekeeping only, not peace enforcement. The nuances might be lost on some, but there is a crucial difference. The former usually takes place when there is actually a semblance of peace, while the latter usually arises when peace is yet to be fully attained and when you might have to shoot some people in order to attain it. The Irish, presumably, will not be shooting anybody, although in peacekeeping there is always a risk of the peacekeeper taking a bullet.
Anyway, this bold move into international military affairs comes at a time when Ireland seems less capable than ever of making the major powers shake at their knees. With much of the army suffering from mass deafness and/or post traumatic stress disorder, it’s difficult to see just exactly how the Celtic Topcat can contribute to the military future of Europe east of the Urals.
The Irish Independent last week reported that a secret Department of Finance memo proposes "savage cutbacks" in the defense forces. The plan would reduce the Irish army’s strength from three brigades to one and merge the Naval Service and ‘r Corps into a kind of coast guard. At this rate, the Irish contribution to PFP will be confined to making the tea in some Balkan hellhole. Would the last recruit please turn off the light.
Well, not exactly. But they are muttering. "IF" hears that at a recent meeting of the Cork Association in New York, concern was expressed over a report in this column that the Irish papers would not be getting the parade line of march this year from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Some of the Rebel County association members are not happy over this, not one bit.
Times have moved on since Michael Collins spread fear in the twilight, so the parade committee members can rest easy in their beds. No Corkmen will come knocking on the midnight door. But a letter from the rebels may well be winging its way to the parade committee in the near future. Watch this space, boy!
Greenbacks and Blackshirts
Hardly a day goes by without new stories of fatcats trooping into the offices of leading Fianna Fáil figures and offering to wallpaper the place with money. If all is to be believed, it’s a wonder that the Soldiers of Destiny don’t simply make Britain an offer it can’t refuse and buy back the wee North, acre by sodden acre.
Surprising, so, that the party that consistently attracts the lion’s share of Irish votes is having a tough time making ends meet. It’s reportedly £1.75 million in debt. This would appear to make it more important than ever that some kind of fund-raising event, or events, be held in the U.S. Bertie Ahern recently attended a gala fund-raiser in Britain, but readers will recall that he couldn’t quite find the time to attend one in New York planned for early last November. The event was consequently scrubbed.
It’s probably fair to say that given the deluge of money floating around the Celtic Moggy these days, Fianna Fáil is not quite as dependent on American dollars as it once was. But given the enormous press coverage surrounding FF and its rich contacts, the money types might be getting a bit shy when it comes to forking over loot for the soldiers. Hence, once again, the lure of America.
Meanwhile, the political thinkers in FF must be getting a little worried over the party’s friend-of-the-ordinary Joe image. The Wall Street Journal, in yet another glowing report on the Irish economy, recently referred to Ireland’s "right-wing government" and the Celtic Moggy’s program of economic liberalization, which has been "more far-reaching than even Margaret Thatcher’s." Jazus! And to cap all that, the European Parliament group with which FF is affiliated is, according to one report, about to get a new member party, an Italian crowd called Alleanza Nazionale, which boasts roots in the neo-fascist movement. The blueshirts over in Fine Gael will be fierce jealous.
Heaven via Shannon
King Hussein’s final journey home began at the Mayo Clinic and took in County Clare. His plane touched down at Shannon for refueling before setting off on the final, sad leg of the flight back to Jordan. Shannon, at one point or another in its history, has seen them all come . . . and go.