The US Military's Use of Irish Airfields, Should it Continue?

Published on 21 May 2021 at 14:09

The Irish Government and the United States Government have an agreement that allows US Military planes, bound for warzones in the Middle East, notably in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan to refuel at Irish airfields.


The US Military most commonly refuel at Shannon airport and the military personnel onboard often disembark into the airport. The US is also an ally of the UK, which often sees the US military also travel there to work with the UK military - preparing for missions in the Middle East or to engage in dual training programmes for the two armed forces. 


The US military’s use of Shannon airport and other Irish airfields has sparked much controversy over many years. In July 2014, now both MEP’s, TD’s at the time, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were arrested at Shannon airport. The two independent TD’s had gone through a fence at Shannon and had gotten quite close to two US military aircraft in order to ‘inspect’ the planes. Daly and Wallace were arrested by airport police as they approached the Irish Army who were protecting the airplane. They were both handed off to local Gardaí and released without charge. 


There have been many TD’s in opposition who have opposed the use of Irish airfields by the US military. The core argument is that if we are allowing arms and military personnel travelling to partake in wars, does that sacrifice the position of Irish neutrality. 


The conflict in Israel and Palestine has also caused more questions as to why Ireland supports US military aircraft’s use of Irish airfields. This week, a USAF C-17 landed at Baldonnel airfield in south-west Dublin for ‘technical reasons’ according to an Air Corps spokesperson. Many people speculated as to whether the plane was travelling to Israel to provide support against Palestine.


US aircraft actively use Irish airspace, with this being the second recent spotting, after a US military helicopter was spotted in Co. Clare last Friday. The helicopter was taking US military personnel off the west coast to take a commercial flight back home. 


The US military also ran into trouble last February when it was revealed that they had breached Irish Covid-19 regulations. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, Simon Coveney stated that US military personnel landed in Ireland without negative PCR tests and were mandated by An Garda Síochána to isolate in a Limerick hotel overnight.


They left the hotel once, while wearing masks to get food. Coveney stated at the time that it was a fault of the US side, who took full responsibility for the incident and communicated that through the relevant US authorities. It has been confirmed by the Department of Foreign Affairs that they must grant permission to each US military flight landing into Ireland.


Does the US military cause more inconvenience to Ireland, by possibly sacrificing our status of neutrality? The possible reason why the use of Irish airfields by the US military won’t end is because of strong cultural and economic ties that Ireland holds with the US. If Ireland was to end the agreement that it holds with the US, this could lead to major disfunction within the Irish economy. 

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