A US military plane which the Government denied on four occasions was at Shannon in September and October of this year has been found to have visited the airport on those dates.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Mr Charles Flanagan had told Dublin North United Left Deputy Clare Daly on four occasions, in reply to Parliamentary Questions, that a specific US Hercules C130 she had inquired about was not at Shannon when she claimed it had.
The Minister has now apologised to Deputy Daly, while Shannon Airport has apologised to him, following what he has described as an “administrative error.”
The KC130J Hercules, with the registration 168073, is an aerial refuelling aircraft attached to the United States Marine Corps Marine Aerial Refueller Transport Squadron 234 (VMGR-234).
The plane arrived in Shannon on September 30th and departed again the following day.
Deputy Daly had asked Minister Flanagan to confirm the plane was at Shannon and whether it was involved in refuelling US military aircraft in Irish airspace.
Minister Flanagan told Deputy Daly, in reply to Parliamentary Questions asked between October 7th and November 20th, that the Shannon Airport Authority had confirmed to his department that no aircraft with the registration number 16/8073 was at the airport on the dates in question.
The Minister also said: “Requests are routinely received by my Department seeking permission for C130 aircraft to land at Shannon airport. Landings were authorised for the timeframe referred to by the Deputy, but, as previously stated, none of these aircraft bore the registration numbers specified.”
This week however, Minister Flanagan corrected his previous statements in relation to the specific aircraft and has now apologised to Deputy Daly.
The Minister has said: “I can confirm to the House that the aircraft identified by Deputy Clare Daly in the four parliamentary questions was in fact granted permission to land at Shannon Airport on 30 September this year.”
“I replied to the questions on the basis of the information provided by Shannon Airport Authority. Shannon Airport Authority has now informed my Department that it has identified an error in its recording of the registration of this aircraft and has provided confirmation of the details of the aircraft in question,” the Minister said.
“The permission to land was granted subject to the strict conditions which apply to foreign military aircraft, including stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and must not engage in intelligence gathering and that the flights in question must not form part of military exercises or operations,” he added.
“I apologise to the House for this error. The Shannon Airport Authority has apologised to me for this administrative error and has assured me that additional control measures have been put in place to avoid any recurrence,” the Minister said.