WikiLeaks cable reveals US tension over Shannon
DETAILS of diplomatic tensions between Ireland and the US over public fears that Shannon Airport in Co Clare could be used for extraordinary renditions have emerged in a leaked embassy cable.
Former American ambassador James Kenny raised the possibility that the US military might stop using Shannon as a transit hub after our Government introduced tighter procedures to monitor flights.
The memo, written by the then ambassador to former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and other officials, was published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
In it, Mr Kenny claimed tighter procedures -- which required more detailed paperwork on munitions flight to be submitted -- were introduced by the Government in August 2006 as a ploy to dampen criticism ahead of the 2007 General Election.
It is the first time Ireland has been caught up in the massive international diplomatic crisis caused by website's release of secret messages sent from the US embassies worldwide.
The ambassador's cable contains quite a degree of speculation as to the reasons behind the diplomatic tensions.
"Segments of the Irish public see the airport as a symbol of Irish complicity in perceived US wrongdoing in the Gulf /Middle East and in regard to extraordinary renditions," Mr Kenny wrote.
"We suspect that the Government aims with these new constraints to dampen public criticism ahead of the 2007 General Elections."
The ambassador said mid-level Department of Foreign Affairs officials had briefed US officials that Fianna Fail was concerned "US mis-steps at Shannon could easily become campaign grist." He said the Government remained supportive of continued US military transits through Shannon, as it brought "diplomatic benefits for the Irish Government and significant revenues for the airport and regional economy".
Over 900 cables from the US embassy in Dublin are expected to be published in the coming months.
Mr Kenny's dispatch, which was written on September 5, 2006, and classified 'confidential', also revealed how the Department of Foreign Affairs informally refused to allow a US deportation flight to pass through Shannon in late 2005 "out of apparent concern that the public would misread the transit as a rendition".
It also revealed that US apache helicopters transported through Shannon to Israel in February 2006 were not listed as "munitions of war".
Mr Kenny asked Washington officials to assess whether it was "becoming too difficult to make the airport a preferred transit stop".
He said the increased restrictions made the shipment of munitions "more cumbersome" and that "military planners would have to consider alternatives to Shannon as a transfer hub".
In any event, the US military decided to continue using Shannon, with 199,000 US troops passing through the airport in the first 10 months of the year.
Mr Kenny also voiced concerns in the cable about a court decision to acquit the so-called Shannon Five anti-war protesters charged in connection with damage caused to a US Navy plane in 2003.
He said Department of Foreign Affairs political director Rory Montgomery had assured him the verdict was "bizarre".
The ambassador suggested in the cable that the US consider launching a civil case against the group or look for the damage bill to be paid by the Government.
Neither suggestion was followed up.
Amnesty International Ireland's executive director Colm O'Gorman said the cable raised several concerns.
"The cable makes clear that prior to August 2006 the United States was able to move certain types of military equipment through Shannon without any notification to the Department of Transport," he said.
Neither the Department of Foreign Affairs nor the Department of Transport responded last night when asked to comment.