The minister was commenting against the backdrop of a recent Irish Times report stating that the Irish government’s policy of allowing U.S. military and CIA aircraft to use Shannon as a transiting facility would be “closely scrutinized” as part of a “major United Nations investigation” into alleged human rights abuses of prisoners detained during the war against terror.
The Irish daily reported that the investigation would be carried out by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in response to complaints from Irish peace activists that Shannon has been a transiting point, not just for hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel, but also for prisoners who have subsequently suffered violations of their human rights in Egypt, Pakistan, Kuwait and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Reports in Ireland in recent years have focused on a particular aircraft, reportedly owned by the CIA, which has turned up at Shannon on a number of occasions.
There have been allegations that the plane was used to fly two Egyptian men from Sweden to Egypt in December 2001 and that they were tortured.
Questions on the jet’s activities have been raised in the D_il and the Seanad.
Amnesty International has stated its concern over the reports which, if found to be substantial, could leave the Irish government open to prosecution under international law.
However, Minister Ahern asserted that Ireland was being vigilant with regard to the way that Shannon was being used by U.S. aircraft.
“No evidence has been brought to us that such planes are landing in Shannon,” Ahern said during his visit to New York and Boston this week.
Ahern said that the Irish government had raised the matter of who was transiting through Shannon by way of the U.S. embassy in Dublin.
The Irish government, he said, had received “categorical assurances” from the U.S. that it had not broken the parameters with regard to the use of Shannon.
“We have to accept their word, government to government,” Ahern said.
He said it was the word of a friendly government and a friendly nation and if it was given it had to be accepted.
Ahern told the D_il recently that the U.S. had repeatedly stated that no prisoners were being sent through Shannon and that no such transiting would occur unless the authorization was first sought from the Irish government.
“If a government of the stature of the U.S. government, which has such a connection with this country, gives us an absolute assurance in this regard, we accept it”, Ahern told D_il deputies, some of whom have urged searches of U.S. planes landing at Shannon.
Meanwhile, more than 234,000 U.S. military personnel passed through Shannon in the first nine months of this year. The total for all of 2004 was 158,000.
And the nine-month total for the number of U.S. military flights given permission to use Irish air apace in so-called overflights is close to the total for 2004, according to Irish government figures.
The overflight total for the first nine months of this year is in excess of 950, against a total of 973 for all of last year.