Mairead Carey / Irish Voice – 2004-11-01 23:43:34
(October 26, 2004) — Up to 1,000 US troops are now passing through Shannon Airport [in Western Ireland] every day on the way to Iraq. The latest figures released by Aer Rianta [now the Dublin Airport Authority] show that 125,000 soldiers used the Claire County airport last year, but that figure is now on the increase.
Numbers released for the month of September show that 22,524 troops passed through Shannon on 150 flights. That is a 17 percent increase since the same time last year. It is estimated that by the end of December, 350,000 troops will have passed through Shannon in the past three years.
Anti-war activists have criticized the government for allowing Shannon to be used by the US military when Ireland is supposed to be a neutral country.
However, the Minister for Transport Martin Cullen has welcomed the increase in numbers, saying that it is good for business. Cullen insists that the stop-overs are simply for refueling and have contributed millions to the local economy. He says there will be no change to government policy on U.S. military aircraft landing at the airport.
“In terms of refueling facilities at Shannon, that has always been the position of the government and we do it for many different countries. That position hasn’t changed. If those facilities are required, the government has always facilitated them,” he says.
He also ruled out any upper limit on the number of soldiers coming through Shannon. Asked what his reaction would be if a million soldiers came in, he replied, “Well, if we could take that many people in Shannon, in terms of business we would be delighted to have them. “Let’s keep this in context. These are simply planes landing in Shannon, refueling and moving on,” he said.
But the practice is still a cause of great controversy in Ireland. Anti-war activists continue to monitor the movements of military flights landing at the airport and continue to demonstrate against the presence of American troops there. A number of activists are currently awaiting trial for criminal damage after a series of attacks on planes carrying U.S. military personnel. The most serious incidents occurred last February when there were two attacks on a U.S. Navy aircraft, each of which resulted in $500,000 of damage to the plane. Since those attacks, a police and army presence has been maintained at the airport around the clock.
Last May, an opinion poll which examined the issue showed deep divisions, although the majority favored allowing Shannon to be used by US forces. Half of those questioned in the Irish Times/MRBI survey said they agreed with the decision, 39 percent disapproved and 10 percent had no opinion. A majority of people questioned in the poll also said they did not believe the decision changed Ireland’s status as a neutral country.
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