Shannon Airport and Irish Neutrality

By Patrick Brogan

The United States regularly goes through phases of reflection, periods where what it means to be American is questioned and America’s role within the global community is put under scrutiny. This is no surprise when we look at its history. For one, as a homogenous culture, it is a lot younger than those in the “old world”. A brutal civil war nearly tore the country apart, some of those ghosts have not yet been laid to rest. The people themselves are made up of a patchwork of other nations’ poor, tired and huddled masses. All these factors and more have resulted in the ‘land of the free’ seeking to establish itself culturally, economically, politically and militarily.

At no point does this introspection reach a cyclic fever point like it does during the presidential elections. This has always been the case, the future of the nation is up for debate, after all. This election was different, though. There has been an element of nastiness on both sides. Part of the reason for this is Trump’s assertion that nothing is sacred. Trump has even questioned America’s relationship with long-standing allies. This has forced many diplomats and politicians to question their links to the United States. Ireland should do likewise.


Shannon Airport had 1.7 million civilian passengers in 2015. All pics by Patrick Brogan.

Irish Neutrality

Us Irish like to think of ourselves as a neutral nation. We only become military involved in conflicts on a United Nations peacekeeping basis, protecting the innocent of the Congo, Lebanon and Cyprus and other war-torn nations the rest of the world forgot or just didn’t care enough about to act. Although Irish men and women did bravely protect the most vulnerable in conflict, this is only part of the story. Ireland, along with the rest of the European Union, is becoming more militarised. The use of Shannon Airport by the American war machine is the most obvious example of Irish neutrality being a thing of the past.

Shannon Watch

The West of Ireland was often seen as a gateway between Europe and North America. Shannon Airport is in a strategically valuable location. Many trans-Atlantic flights needed to stop here. This extends to military flights. In the new century, the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both are thousands of miles away from the eastern seaboard of the United States so Shannon Airport was used to transport men, weapons, equipment and prisoners. Given the moral issues and legality surrounding these type of operations, you would think there would be somebody to protest against such wrongdoing. Luckily, there is.

So, who are these people? Well, Shannon Watch is one such organisation. They describe themselves as “a group of peace and human rights activists based in the mid-West of Ireland. In the tradition of the Irish anti-war protest that began almost a decade ago.” I spoke to one of their most prominent members, John Lannon, at this month’s vigil.

I started off by asking John what was the objective of the group’s monthly protests at Shannon Airport. He stated; “The objective of the demonstrations here at the airport in Shannon is very simple; it’s to end the US military use of the airport. There are a few additional parts as well. We need some accountability and we need an investigation of what has gone in the last 15 years, when the CIA rendition planes were allowed to land, when we had two and a half, almost three, million armed US troops were allowed pass through the airport as a result of some deals that were done in 2003, despite the fact that Irish people in the main have always supported neutrality, have not supported the military use of the airport, yet, it has continued to happen.”

The group has been holding the vigil for over a decade now. I was interested to see if John felt the group were any closer to reaching their objectives. Here is what he had to say; “We haven’t achieved our goals, but we have ensured our complicity in war is probably less than it would have been if we didn’t exist and if other peace and human rights groups didn’t exist. We had 350,000 armed US troops come through between 2004/2005. In 2016, there were 60,000. That’s still 60,000 too many. The airport in a neutral country, a civilian airport in a neutral country should not be used by the US military for purposes of engaging in war. By continuing to keep pressure on, through the protests, through our form of submissions to parliamentary bodies, to European bodies, through the media work, through lobbying of politicians, parliamentary questions we have supported that others have helped us to ask, we have, to some extent stemmed the tide, but as I said, we still have a lot more to do.

“The complicity of Ireland in war goes beyond the military use of Shannon by the US. It is also linked into the engagement with the Common Foreign Defence Policy of the European Union and the fact we are being sucked into the ongoing militarisation of the EU. It’s linked to the grants given to companies and so on manufacturing directly or indirectly for weapons production. So, there’s a lot that we need to achieve, but the primary and most overt and most visible aspect of Ireland’s complicity in war, in breach of its neutrality, is what is happening in Shannon Airport.”


And military aviation, too.

What has Ireland to Gain?

The unjust “War on Terror” has been waging for most of this century. This global tragedy is almost too big to quantify, but what is clear is it has been the cause of many deaths, created millions of refugees, destabilised the region, was the origin of multiple massacres and unjust acts, and ironically, the enemy it was designed to destroy — radical groups — became more powerful.  This has been one the great human-made disasters. Why would Ireland have itself linked to this ghastly calamity? It is baffling. John had his own thoughts on this when asked why does Ireland continue to let the US military use Shannon Airport.

“That’s very hard to tell. We suspect that back in 2003, when Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach that some deals were done that were probably linked to multinational investment in Ireland and to the economic value of this ongoing special relationship, as it is sometimes called, that we have with the US was based, which is a complete fabrication or lie because we have seen that computers [companies] that have employed 1700 or 1900 people in Limerick pulled out even though they have continued to allow the US military to come through Shannon. 

“It’s also probably, from the US point of view, it’s a means to suck in another previously neutral or unaligned country into their coalition and ultimately into NATO.”

“It’s also probably, from the US point of view, it’s a means to suck in another previously neutral or unaligned country into their coalition and ultimately into NATO. So, we are being dragged into something that is destructive, something that is causing millions of people to be displaced from their homes and probably millions to die directly from the wars in the Middle East. If you look at what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, what is happening in Syria, there’s Libya, there’s Somalia, all of those countries that have been essentially destroyed by imperialist intervention and by what the US has done since the appalling acts in September 2001, after the Twin Towers.”

We found out through Wikileaks that James Kenny, the then US ambassador to Ireland, claimed in 2006 that “for Ireland, U.S. military transits not only demonstrate bilateral cooperation in support of U.S. objectives in the Gulf/Middle East, but also generate significant revenue for Shannon Airport and the regional economy. In 2005, the airport turned a euro 2.9 million profit after earning roughly euro 10.3 million from services.” So, is it more a case of Ireland backing US military objectives or, is it for the economics?

John Lannon said; “Well, there is no financial benefit from the US military use of Shannon. We haven’t been able to get complete figures but we do know they spend hundreds of thousands on Garda and the Irish Defence Force’s protection for the US warplanes at Shannon. We know that close to €45 million is what it has cost the Irish State to waive air traffic control fees for the US military planes. €45 million. That is what it has cost us essentially at a minimum and a whole lot more. Okay, maybe there is a little bit of income, sure, for pints of Guinness and coffees they sell, for a little bit of additional work for some of the service companies although, it should be pointed out that, in most cases, the service companies are not allowed near the military planes. Nobody is allowed to go near them. Nobody knows what is on them. They keep telling us this nonsense about them not being armed or not being involved in military operations, but that’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone that knows what the US Air Force do. I mean, they engage in military operations, that’s what they do. So claiming their planes are involved in something else at Shannon is complete nonsense.”

“We know that close to €45 million is what it has cost the Irish State to waive air traffic control fees for the US military planes.”

I thought it was interesting that Kenny suggested that service companies are benefitting from the US military. Surely, nobody other than the military is allowed near these planes. I put this to John. “There’s some benefit for the refuelers, for the catering companies, for, you know, on what are called military contracted planes as opposed to military planes, so the likes of Omni Air International are ferrying troops through Shannon regularly. I mean, yes, there is some business and there is some benefit for local companies, but look, the bottom line is; even if there is an economic benefit for companies in the region it comes at a horrible cost. The cost is essentially hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of lives lost in the Middle East. The cost is the displacement of tens of millions of people in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and so on. That’s what you’re benefiting from. If there is small economic value in Shannon it’s a price that far exceeds anything worth paying.


The beautiful scenery surrounding the Co. Clare airport.

The Politicians

This issue has not surprisingly divided the political classes. There are those that think we should under no circumstances let theses planes through Ireland and there are those that think we should continue to do so. Previous governments and its members, like Paschal Donohoe, have come out in support of the use of Shannon by claiming it is important in stopping the spread of radical Islam. Then there are those that risked the wrath of the courts, like Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, in order to stop military operations there.

The Irish Public

All this may come as a shock to members of the Irish public. Although the Irish public, by and large, supports the idea of neutrality, many are unaware of how far this nation has slid from that status. I asked John did Shannon Watch have the backing of the public here. “Absolutely. Yeah, we have. We know that going back over the years, successive polls that were done by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and by Mick Wallace and Clare Daly TD and others that consistently over half the Irish people want us to be neutral, we are not neutral anymore, but they want us to be neutral. They don’t support the US military use of Shannon.

“We know at a local level that even though support may have waned a bit over the years from the support of over 100,000 people that were out in the streets back in ‘02 and ‘03, that support has been growing again for the vigils that we hold on the second Sunday of every month. Our numbers vary between ten and forty or fifty every month. Last week /two weeks ago at a demonstration here, opposing Trump’s immigration ban and the fact that this is another in a series of human rights violations that are happening in Shannon Airport on behalf of the US military, we had about 150 people out. We have been emphasising the fact that what’s happening under Trump is an extension of what happened under Obama and what happened under Bush before that. It is ongoing engagement in global warfare and promotion of militarisation and a complete disregard for international law. Trump has made it much more evident or visible I suppose in recent times through some of his executive orders. It’s nothing new and we have been campaigning against this for the last fifteen years at Shannon.”

They keep telling us this nonsense about them not being armed or not being involved in military operations, but that’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone that knows what the US Air Force do.

This is backed up an article in The Journal. A Red C poll had found that 57% of people wanted Irish neutrality enshrined in the constitution, much like Austria did in 1955. This was then debated in the Dáil. The motion was subsequently voted against by the Government as they claimed it might restrict Irish peacekeeping operations within the UN. Enda Kenny also claimed that Ireland voting for the Lisbon Treaty (at the second time of asking) meant Ireland was ensuring its neutrality as there is a clause in there respecting these wishes. The Government hopes to amend the Bill.

The Media

Given the implications of what is going on in the Middle East and Ireland’s complicity in it, you would think this is big news and the media would be all over it. This is not so, as John explains if the media give the group fair coverage; “No, we don’t [get fair coverage]. This is an issue that is of grave importance, internationally and for Ireland. As I’ve said, millions of people are dying and being displaced as a result of war and Ireland is complicit in fully participating in those wars and has been directly involved in the renditions, the kidnapping and torture of people. In many cases these were innocent and in all cases should have been subjected to the full rigours of the law rather than being taking into black sites by the CIA. Their planes came through Shannon. These are matters of huge significance, of grave importance, and they are never discussed to the extent that they should be in the popular mainstream media in Ireland.”

This is another example of the media being the PR arm of the elite. The banks control the money, big oil controls energy, the military-industrial complex is in charge of the weapons and crowd control, the academic world influences education. It is a web spun by the spiders of the establishment aimed at preserving the status quo. Watch the BBC produced The Century of the Self for more.

“These are matters of huge significance, of grave importance, and they are never discussed to the extent that they should be in the popular mainstream media in Ireland.”

Ireland; the Next ISIS Target?

With Ireland’s continuing aid of US imperial interests, the question has to be asked; is Ireland a legitimate target in the eyes of Islamic extremists and could it lead to terrorist attacks here? “It could. We know going back to last year, at one point in 2016, that the Irish flag appeared on a banner of international countries identified by ISIS as the coalition that they were fighting against. We know from statements made by other radical and violent fundamentalists that it could be and again this is something not discussed. We have been accused at Shannon Watch of sensationalising this and drawing attention to this and that somehow we are the ones putting Ireland at risk. We are not the ones putting Ireland at risk. We are trying to address Ireland’s complicity in human rights abuse and in war and death and in suffering. 

“We need to have conversations, we need to have discussions about this. We claim to be neutral. The Government, the establishment,  the Department of Foreign Affairs would have us believe we are neutral, but we’re not and we need to have discussions about this. We need to have this addressed and we need people in Ireland to know what exactly is happening at Shannon, because quite frankly a lot of people don’t. We are surprised, even now, as we go around the country doing talks highlighting the numbers that have gone through Shannon in terms of the US troops and people are astounded. They don’t know what’s going on here.”

The alleged Islamic State video names 60 nations that are part of “coalition of devils”. Ireland is amongst them. This video claims the banners of 80 nations, the number it takes to fulfil one of the prophecies, makes their beliefs stronger and that these countries are united by the Millah of Kufr to fight the truth. The voice is clearly that of a North American and the video is, despite the issue being discussed,  very puerile in some sense and amateurish. This in no way away takes away from the seriousness of the threat.


We are not told of all the arrivals at Shannon.

The Militarisation of Europe

The European Union was set up as a peaceful organisation. The main goal was to avoid a war like the one that had torn Europe apart a few years previous. That’s why the coal and steel mills were closely controlled because they were vital to the war efforts. Economics became a tool of peace. This has slowly changed over the decades. Although peace in Europe has remained, the continent has, as a whole, been arming itself against “enemies”. Russia is the most notable of these. It is difficult to shake the sense that Europe is a vassal state of the United States since the Second World War.

Enda Kenny’s claim that the Lisbon Treaty respects Ireland’s neutrality is contradicted by the fact that from the Maastricht Treaty onwards, all European treaties have pushed for a stronger coordinated European force in some way or another. NATO has constantly encroached on Russia and surrounded it. Most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are European and not on the Atlantic. Mikhail Gorbachev was promised that NATO would not move past Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. It’s now on Russia’s doorstep.

The European Union is just an extension of NATO and US foreign policy. This was summed up very well by Tariq Ali when interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now after the EU laughably won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

“The bottom line is; even if there is an economic benefit

for companies in the region it comes at a horrible cost.”

Ireland Buying Arms

Apart from the 2,577,550 armed troops that have moved through Shannon, according to the Shannon Watch website, Ireland has dealt in some more troubling aspects of the arms industry. Hypocritically, the Irish Government says it values its role in UN peacekeeping missions and yet buys arms from the most heavily criticised and most war crime committing member of the UN as reported by Irish Independent. The cosy feeling of friendship is clearly one-sided as Israeli secret services illegally use Irish passports for their death squads. Oh, well.

The facilitating of aggressive behaviour is not just confined to America and her allies. The Soviet Union was permitted use of the airport during the Cold War and more recently, Russia has shipped weapons through here to be sold onto South American countries.


Speaking of Russia, there have been increasing accounts of Russian jets entering Irish airspace. If you have been wondering why that is, hopefully, this article will give you a better idea. Ireland is no longer a neutral country. Normally, Ireland used to make a name for itself on the international stage through peacekeeping, diplomacy, acts of charity or something positive, something we could proud of. No longer. Ireland may not see itself as a target for Russian scrutiny or radical violence, but the rules of geopolitics say otherwise. Hiding our head in the sand will not change that.


What’s the endgame in all this? With Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office, everything is harder to predict. Will he be an isolationist president? Ireland has no control over that and never will. What we can decide as a nation is our role, if any at all, in global affairs. Do we want to continue buying arms from the Israelis? Did we want to participate in an increasingly aggressive European Union? Every time a family is blown up in Baghdad, do we want to look at that and say Ireland played a role? Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the past. What we can do, is decide our future.

All of this seems insurmountable. The vast economic, political and military resources of the American Empire against an island nation. But, America has already made concessions in the use of Shannon Airport. We know this because James Kenny said as much; “Although supportive of continued U.S. military transits at Shannon Airport, the Irish Government has informally begun to place constraints on U.S. operations at the facility, mainly in response to public sensitivities over U.S. actions in the Middle East.” What John Lannon and the rest of Shannon Watch need is more support. Only if band together can we retake Ireland’s neutrality.


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  1. Neutrality is a waste of time as the Dutch, Belgians, and Norwegians discovered in WW2. Yes Switzerland was neutral too but the Nazis needed an international clearing house for their (stolen) cash. They were safe not because of the hight mountains but because of what they could offer. Sweden remained neutral for several reasons first and formost Oerlikon who could supply masses of weapons (admittedly to both sides) and import raw materials, which Hitler couldn’t. When asked about Ireland Hitler replied “that over grown cabbage patch”. The truth here is that both the Germans and the British had plans to invade Ireland if they saw a need. So the moral of this story is that unless you can do something for both belligerents in a game of international fisticuffs or you are of so little value as to make you unimportant neutrality is pointless. Another wee note here is that knock airport has a lovely runway built by donations from the US that is a massive 7700feet long, ample to get a B52 airborne with enough fuel to hit Russia…. wonder who really paid for that one?, I’m sure the Russians knew. Any runway between Russia (USSR) and the US in either direction capable of handling nuclear strike aircraft would have been a target for both sides. So even Ireland in Nuclear conflict would be a target and neutrality would not have made it immune from any attacks (from either side). As for ISIS or any other terrorist group they really don’t need an excuse. If hitting this country can make headlines then you’re a target.

    • Hi Willie. Thanks for your comment. You bring up a number of interesting points. I don’t know if you’re suggesting the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway could ever defeat the Nazi armies, but if they were neutral or not, I’m not sure the outcome wouldn’t be any different. Most nations pick neutrality out of practicality. There is no point going to war if you don’t have the man power, weapons or logistics. Those three countries presented a foot hold for Britain to get on the continent, so although they might not have been fighting the Germans, they certainly would have backed Britain over the Nazis. Meaning, they were not totally neutral. I’m not sure about the point bout terrorist groups. If they were provided with no reason to attack smaller countries they wouldn’t give them a second thought. I never heard that about Knock Airport before. It sure is interesting. Thanks again.

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