2011-01-20 Cablegate: Statement on rendition by Irish Labour spokesperson for Foreign Affairs

Irish Labour politician calls out Irish government on rendition: A senior member of the Irish Labour party and spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Michael D Higgins, has criticized the Fianna Fáil government for apparent collusion with the US government on suspected rendition flights from Shannon airport in County Clare, indicated in US diplomatic cables from the Dublin Embassy.

In a statement made on January 17, Higgins referred to 04DUBLIN1739 and 07DUBLIN916 in support of his claim that the Irish government had knowingly conspired against popular and legal opinion in the use of Shannon airport by the U.S. military, while secretly harbouring a strong suspicion that it was being used for extraordinary rendition flights.


The latest US cable revealed by Wikileaks shows how even in 2004 the Government's legal advice was that allowing the use of Shannon Airport to aircraft en-route to, or returning from, a rendition mission, made Ireland complicit in torture.

Yet the Dáil and Irish citizens were continually assured by Ministers that permitting the use of Irish territory as a staging post was not a breach of Ireland's committments under the international convention against torture. The Government ignored its own legal advice and maintained the same line until June 2006 when the Council of Europe and the Irish Human Rights Commission stated that such aircraft were conducting illegal activity.

The disclosure of this cable comes after earlier revelations that former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, was 'quite convinced' in 2007 that Shannon Aiport had been used on at least three occasions by aircraft involved in rendition flights. Clearly there was then, as there is now, a strong need to change the law in this country to ensure that even when there is a Government without the mettle to stand up for Ireland's commitments to human rights, Irish airports are not used in rendition circuits and that any such aircraft are subject to proper inspection by the Irish authorities.

Higgins made reference to a private member's bill he had introduced in 2008, the intention of which was to render explicit in Irish law Ireland's obligations under international human-rights treaties:


  • that persons are not transported by aircraft out of the State in state custody otherwise than in accordance with the laws of the State and the international agreements to which it is a party,
  • that aircraft suspected of being used for the transport of persons in state custody to a place where they may be exposed to the risk of a breach of human rights are not permitted to enter the airspace of the State or, if such aircraft are within the airspace of the State, that all practicable measures are taken to prevent the commission of a breach of human rights within the territory of the State.

Higgins urged that legislative measures be taken to strengthen Irish legal protections against extraordinary rendition.


I would now urge the government either accept this Bill or to produce similar legislation of their own. Around the time my Bill was published, the Green Party announced that a government committee had been established to look at the whole area of extraordinary rendition, but nothing has been heard of this since.
Extraordinary rendition is the term used to describe the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another and gives rise to particular concerns in the context of alleged transfers of suspected terrorists to countries known to torture prisoners or to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture. It is contrary to international law and Ireland has an obligation to ensure that we do not facilitate this practice in any way.

In response to public and opposition pressure in the wake of the recent IMF deal, the Irish government is expected to announce a general election within the next month. Because of a sea change in Irish politics in the wake of Ireland's banking crisis, the coming election is widely regarded as being open beyond precedent in Irish history. It remains to be seen whether the revelations in Cablegate achieve legislative influence in the limited time before the Dáil is dissolved, or whether (government party) Fianna Fáil complicity in US rendition becomes an election campaign issue.

Click Here for our overview of the history of the Shannon airport rendition story.

Update: Within three hours of this post, the Irish government announced the election for the 11th of March.

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