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National Security

'No need' for Coveney to correct Dáil record on RAF deal but Tánaiste giving issue 'ongoing reflection'

Previously Simon Coveney, as then Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, denied there was a deal.

THE TÁNAISTE HAS told the Dáil that while he refuses to discuss air policing for national security reasons he is giving the matter “ongoing reflection”.

There has been controversy for the last week following extensive reports in the media that a deal exists between the British and Irish Governments for the Royal Air Force to police Irish airspace.   

In response to questions from the Sinn Fein spokesperson on defence Matt Carthy, Micheál Martin, who is Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said that he does not believe that former Minister Simon Coveney would have to correct the Dáil record.

Previously Simon Coveney, as then Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, denied there was a deal. 

In comments to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence Coveney said: “We do not have overflight arrangements with the RAF, to be clear.”

Carthy asked the Tánaiste if there was a need for Coveney to correct the Dáil Record.

Martin responded: “Your reference to Foreign Minister Coveney’s statement. I don’t see anything in that that needs correction of the Dáil record.”

Martin said that he would not comment on the specifics of any arrangements with other states in regard to overflights. 

But did say: “I think the two lines, the two important points, we have consistently made is that in terms of national security everything that we do as a country is in line with our military neutrality and indeed with Irish sovereign decision making.

“There is a challenge in terms of going forward and that in respect of protecting our national security and indeed others as well.

“But I am giving this matter ongoing reflection, but I do think we shouldn’t take too lightly the issues around national security more generally and I would be somewhat cautious in over interpreting various reports that have been published recently in terms of overflight and so on,” he added. 

Martin outlined to the Dáil that responsibility for control of Irish airspace rests with the newly created AirNav Ireland which was formerly part of the Irish Aviation Authority.

He said the body is informed by other jurisdictions of aircraft movements including those of military flights. 

He said that Ireland is developing a primary radar system to monitor its own airspace which is part of the Commission on the Defence Forces recommendations. 

Martin explained that it was an “extremely complex” project and will take some time to deliver but that it was being prioritised by Government.  

He reiterated that policies were conducted in accordance with “full respect” for sovereign decision making authority for Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.

“They are also fully in accordance with Irish and international law. It should be noted that the issues involved are the subject of a court and high court case,” he said. 

This was in reference to Senator Gerard Craughwell’s case in regard to seeking clarity on the deal between Ireland and the UK.

Matt Carthy added that the public were entitled to know about the deal but that the Tánaiste’s response had left it as “clear as mud”.

He also said that James Heappey, the Armed Forces Minister in the UK had stated that RAF aircraft had “deployed into” Irish airspace. 

Martin said that the nature of Ireland’s failing defence apparatus was contained in the publicly available Commission on the Defence Forces report.

“We have limited capabilities in respect of monitoring or indeed intercepting foreign aircraft in our skies. We’re a military neutral country.

“Given our size we have limited capability, that’s not a secret. That’s well documented in the Commission on the Defence Forces,” he said. 

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