Over 580 flights with US troops or munitions passed through last year
THE Government permitted 584 civilian flights carrying US troops or munitions to fly through Irish airspace last year.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe told the Oireachtas Petitions Committee that the figure marks a significant decline on the number that passed over Ireland during the peak years of the US involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Mr Donohoe told the committee - which was sitting for the first time - that 1,495 civilian flights carrying either troops or munitions had been exempted by the Government to fly through Irish airspace in 2007.
"The vast majority of the exemptions granted… relate to munitions of war belonging to US military," he said. "This is more a function of geography as policy."
The minister said about half those civilian flights that have been granted exemptions stop at Shannon to refuel.
The Department grants the exemptions as it is responsible for dealing with civilian aircraft. It also advises the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defence of the applications made for exemptions.
"Since 2011, there has been a consistent reduction in exemptions, due to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and US troops from Afghanistan," he added.
It's estimated that 2.3 million US troops have passed through Shannon since the conflict in Afghanistan started in 2001. The US invaded Iraq in 2003.
The minister insisted that he did not believe the use of Shannon was in any way a breach of Ireland's neutrality.
He told the committee, chaired by Padraig Mac Lochlainn, about 10pc of the exempted civilian flights passing through Irish airspace are only carrying munitions and don't usually land in Ireland.