Wikileaks: Memo tells of Ahern's rendition fears
JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern believed at least three US flights involved in so-called extraordinary renditions landed on Irish soil, a confidential diplomatic memo reveals.
Mr Ahern's suspicions that CIA flights refuelled at Shannon Airport before or after conducting renditions prompted him to ask the US ambassador if Irish officials could conduct random inspections of aircraft.
This, he said, would "provide cover" should it ever be proven such fiercely controversial flights had passed through Ireland.
Publicly, Mr Ahern has always said he accepted US assurances that the CIA had not used Shannon for rendition operations.
However, a leaked US embassy cable published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks reveals that Mr Ahern expressed serious concern on the issue in private meetings with US officials.
According to a cable written by former US ambassador Thomas Foley in December 2007, Mr Ahern "seemed quite convinced" that at least three flights had refuelled at the Co Clare airport either en route to or returning from rendition missions.
The memo was forwarded to then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and to other American embassies in the EU.
It shows that Mr Ahern, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, while acting somewhat deferentially to US interests, expressed concern about the political impact for him if it were proven a rendition flight had actually used Shannon.
In conversation with Ambassador Foley, Mr Ahern is said to have indicated he might have to resign if US assurances proved to be false.
The ambassador wrote: "Ahern noted that he had 'put his neck on the chopping block' and would pay a severe political price if it ever turned out that rendition flights had entered Ireland, or if one was discovered in the future.
"He stated that he 'could use a little more information' about the flights, musing that 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."
The meeting came not long after Mr Ahern had staunchly rejected demands by the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) for aircraft inspections.
The ambassador noted: "Ahern declared that the IHRC report contained no new information, but warned that opposition parties Fine Gael and Labour could be expected to continue to raise the issue from time to time in efforts to politically embarrass the Fianna Fail-run Government."
Mr Foley continued: "While Ahern's public stance on extraordinary renditions is rock-solid, his musings during the meeting seemed less assured. This was the only issue during the meeting that agitated him."