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Charlie Flanagan apologises and says this US military plane DID land in Shannon

But does an explanation of “administrative error” raise more questions than it answers?

ON TUESDAY, MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan made an interesting statement to the Dáil.

An American Reserve Marine Corps Hercules C-130 transport aircraft had landed in Shannon on 30 September, and left the next day.

The only thing is, the Minister had denied this on four previous occasions before the Dáil.

Independent TD Clare Daly had put it to him in four parliamentary questions, starting on 7 October, and ending on 20 November.

On each occasion, Flanagan said no aircraft with the registration number 16/8073 had landed in Shannon on or around that date, though he acknowledged “landings were authorised for the timeframe referred to.”

He also said he was basing his answer on information provided by Shannon Airport Authority.

However, activists including John Lannon from Shannonwatch, had collected photographic evidence of the presence of the aircraft, which is used for refuelling other US military planes.

Here’s Paul Nelhams’ photo of the plane landing in Shannon on 30 September:

168073 KC-130J Source: Anhedral

The flight-tracking website Flight Aware also captured the plane’s landing on 30 September.

Daly had repeatedly raised concerns that the C-130 was operated by a US Marine Corps squadron “who have been involved in many operations in Libya and Iraq.”

The 1952 Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order states that the Minister for Foreign Affairs must give permission before a foreign military aircraft can fly over or land in Ireland.

As described by Minister Flanagan in the Dáil last week, requests for permission are submitted by the Embassy of the country concerned, and are only granted under the following “strict conditions”:

The aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and must not engage in intelligence gathering, and that the flights in question must not form any part of military exercises or operations.

This is, of course, crucial to Ireland’s official policy of neutrality.

c130 Source: Shannonwatch

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, however, Shannonwatch’s John Lannon questioned whether those stipulations were applied in the case of QH-8073:

How can the minister say strict conditions are applied when he doesn’t even know which planes are landing?

On Tuesday, Flanagan corrected the record of the Dáil, and apologised to the house, saying:

I can confirm to the House that the aircraft identified by Deputy Clare Daly in the four parliamentary questions was in fact granted permission to land at Shannon Airport on 30 September this year.

He said his previous replies were based on information given to him by Shannon Airport Authority, but that they had since “identified an error in [their] recording of the registration of this aircraft.”

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Flanagan added that the Shannon Airport Authority had apologised to him for “this administrative error” and put additional measures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Finian McGrath asked “Did they have guns?” but he was not answered.

A spokesperson for the Shannon Airport Authority told TheJournal.ie that there had been an “incorrect recording of an aircraft registration number.”

Campaigns European Stability Fiscal Treaties Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

The “administrative error” explanation, however, seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

During Leaders’ Questions yesterday, Independent TD Mick Wallace was outraged that the Department appeared to be “relying on” the Shannon Airport Authority when it comes to keeping track of foreign military landings.

How can it be acceptable that the Minister is relying on a civil authority for information regarding military traffic…?
If this aeroplane had permission to land, why did the Department not have a record of it? Clearly, it did not have a record…
While we are glad he corrected the record it is a pity he denied it four times.
It is proof that the Government did not know and that control of the military aircraft in Shannon has been outsourced to a civil authority, which is scary, given the importance the Government says it attached to it.

TheJournal.ie asked the Department of Foreign Affairs whether Minister Flanagan’s reliance on the Shannon Airport Authority for information about a sanctioned landing is out of step with official policy, and here is their response:

The Department has records that confirm the request for and granting of permission for the landing of the aircraft.However, such requests are submitted, and approvals are provided, with reference to the aircraft type and callsign.
The parliamentary questions focused on registration numbers, details which are not routinely submitted in requests.In addition to aircraft type and callsign number, the Shannon Airport Authority also records registration numbers and that is why queries were referred to the Authority.

Read: Mick Wallace and Clare Daly to contest Shannon charges>

PHOTOS: Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are arrested at Shannon Airport>

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Dan MacGuill

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