There has been a significant increase in number of aircraft transporting US military personnel through Shannon Airport en route to NATO countries in Eastern Europe this week.
A notable rise in Omni Air International US troop flights through Shannon Airport towards the Ukraine border have been observed this week but no formal request has been received by the Irish Government for increased activity at the International Airport.
Russia announced this week that it was pulling back some troops from exercises that heightened fears of a potential invasion of Ukraine. Russian President, Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow was ready for talks with the US and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency.
Shannon Airport is used for the US military to refuel their aircraft with four instances occurring in a two hour period alone this week. Activity of US troops has been quiet at Shannon since their withdrawal from Afghanistan over six months ago. The uptake this week is due to the deployment of US military personnel to Eastern Europe.
On Monday, one flight through Shannon Airport flew within 100km of the Ukrainian border. Aircraft belonging to the US military have flown from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Poland, Germany and Romania via Shannon in recent days representing an increased frequency to the norm.
When contacted by The Clare Echo, the Department of Defence said matters relating to US troops was a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs. A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told The Clare Echo no request had been received for increased refuelling at Shannon Airport for the US military.
Similarly, the Department of Transport confirmed that they had no requests from the US Government, with regard to increasing the frequency of US civil aircraft used to transport US military personnel. “Such flights require the issue of a flight authorisation and/or a ministerial exemption permitting the carriage of munitions of war by the military personnel onboard. The 1944 Chicago Convention provides for civil aircraft not engaged in scheduled international air services to overfly and/or land for non-traffic purposes, including refuelling, in the territory of contracting states.
“Both Ireland and the United States of America are contracting states to this Convention,” the spokesperson added while noting matters concerning foreign military aircraft and foreign military personnel entering Ireland while in uniform are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs have since Saturday advised Irish citizens not to travel to Ukraine, a total of 114 Irish citizens have registered with the Embassy in Kiev at present.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD (FG) stated on Tuesday, “it is urgent that Russia de-escalate, abide by international law and engage constructively in dialogue. My Department’s advice in respect of Ukraine remains not to traveI. I encourage any Irish citizen in Ukraine who has not already done so to register with the Embassy. Citizens currently in the country should leave now using available commercial options”.
In 2020, a total of 65,965 US troops passed through Shannon Airport in a ten month period, more than any year between 2014 to 2017. “The use of Shannon Airport by the US military is a long-standing practice which has been in place for over 50 years. I am satisfied that this practice is fully consistent with Ireland’s policies, including our traditional policy of military neutrality,” Minister Coveney said when questioned on the matter at the time by Galway TD, Catherine Connolly (IND).
Shannon’s use by US military was highlighted in the Dáil this week by Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP/SOL) who questioned if the Government would say “United States military is not welcome in Shannon Airport when it is en route to conduct military operations elsewhere in the world” while Mick Barry (PBP/SOL) said Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) must raise the matter with US President, Joe Biden on St Patrick’s Day.