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Ahern suspected US carried prisoners through Shannon: WikiLeaks

Dermot Ahern suspected there had been at least three rendition flights through Shannon, but took America’s word for it – even though he feared paying “a severe political price”.

Image: Paul Faith/PA Archive

Updated, 14.02

DERMOT AHERN suspected that the United States had carried prisoners of war on flights through Shannon Airport, but was happy to accept the United States’ word that no such flights had occurred, it is claimed.

A leaked diplomatic cable written by Thomas C Foley – the US ambassador to Ireland at the time – and published by WikiLeaks recounted a meeting between Foley and Ahern, then the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in December 2007,

In that meeting, Ahern had been “quite convinced” that the United States had operated “at least three flights involving [prisoner] renditions” through the airport, stopping there to refuel before travelling back to the United States.

Bowing to desires from the United States, however, he had rejected demands from the Irish Human Rights Commission that each US aircraft landing in Shannon be inspected, publicly saying that the report had not contained any new information.

The document also reveals:

  • That Dermot Ahern felt he was taking a political risk by guaranteeing the absence of rendition flights through Shannon
  • That the government acknowledged the difficulties of getting the Lisbon Treaty referendum approved, though it felt that the majority of the public supported it anyway
  • Further examples of the close relationship between Fianna Fáil and the United States
  • The US’s disappointment at how an Oireachtas committee meeting which found that there was no obvious evidence of rendition flights had been barely reported by the press

An anxious Ahern – who appeared far “less assured” in the meeting, Foley believed, than he had in his “rock-solid” public stance – said he had “put his neck on the chopping block” and that he would be forced to pay “a severe political price if it ever turned out that rendition flights had entered Ireland or if one was discovered in the future.”

‘Random’ inspection

Indicating that he had been forced to simply accept the US’s assurances that no such flights were operating through the Co Clare airport, Ahern said:

…it might not be a bad idea to allow the random inspection of a few planes to proceed, which would provide cover if a rendition flight ever surfaced.

[Ahern] seemed quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere.

Ahern also warned the ambassador that Fine Gael and Labour were likely to use the matter of rendition flights in its efforts to destabilise Fianna Fáil – a further indication of the close ties between the governing parties and the US embassy.

Ahern – now the Minister for Justice, and set to retire at the next general election – said it would be a good idea for Foley to meet with the leadership of Fine Gael in order to relay the Americans’ position to Enda Kenny and others.

In documents previously published by WikiLeaks, it was revealed that the US embassy had been keen not to overemphasise its reliance on the status quo at Shannon for fear it would cause political harm to Fianna Fáil.

A Fine Gael spokesperson told TheJournal.ie this lunchtime that no such meeting had ever taken place.

Dealing with other topics in the same meeting, however, Ahern had been “warm” and “open” – a sign which Foley interpreted as a “measure of the importance the Irish attach to the bilateral relationship with the US.”

‘Fishing for assurances’

He had been much more cordial, it had appeared, when discussing the prospect of the Lisbon Treaty referendum or the transfer of 10 Cuban inmates from Guantanamo Bay to Ireland.

His unease, it had appeared, was part of a tactic of “fishing for renewed assurances… that no rendition flights have transited Ireland, or would transit in the future.”

There is no mention in the document of such an assurance being given.

On a similar note, the memo notes Foley’s disappointment over how a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs – which had found there to be virtually no evidence of rendition flights travelling through Shannon – had gotten little or no press coverage.

Dealing with other matters, Ahern said the government was confident that the majority of Irish people were “generally supportive of the EU and the Reform Treaty”, though Ahern acknowledged that it would be tough to get out the ‘Yes’ vote in that matter.

The referendum would be centrally referred to as the ‘Reform Treaty’ rather than the ‘Lisbon Treaty’, Ahern said, adding that the referendum would be held alongside a vote on the Constitutional rights of the child.

The memo, dated December 20 2007, was written for the attention of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was copied to the US embassies in the other European Union member states.

Requests for comment from the Department of Foreign Affairs have not yet been responded to.

Read the leaked memo in full >

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Gavan Reilly

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