The Dublin government has been urged to come clean about a secret air defence arrangement operated with the British government for decades.
Under the deal, London was effectively handed control over the airspace of the entire island of Ireland. Because of the arrangement which dates from the 1950s, the 26 County state never felt it necessary to invest in its own defence systems.
A report in the Irish Times has claimed that the 26 County statelet secretly entered into a formal arrangement with London in 1952 which would allow RAF aircraft to ‘police’ Irish airspace. This agreement was secretly renewed and updated over the years.
Under the Irish Constitution any formal treaty or alliance with another nation requires the approval of parliament, but this requirement was ignored and the deal swept under the table.
However, Irish Air Corps officers raised legal concerns about the agreement, with one senior officer advising officials that if an RAF pilot took lethal action in Irish airspace it could be a breach of international law. This was also ignored.
Successive government ministers have repeatedly insisted that there are no “overflight arrangements” with the RAF.
But last November, to the embarrassment of officials in Dublin, a British minister of state for defence told Westminster that RAF jets have “deployed into Irish airspace on occasion”.
Asked about these comments this week, Tánaiste Micheal Martin replied: “We don’t comment on national security issues and that remains the case.” But, he said, “anything we do is fully consistent with Irish sovereign decision-making and fully consistent with Irish military neutrality”, without further explanation.
He added that there may have been occasions in the past where RAF jets had entered Irish airspace “for different reasons”.
Sinn Féin’s foreign affairs spokesman, Matt Carthy, said news of the arrangement, “simply further exposes the abysmal failure of successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments to invest in our Defence Forces and to ensure that, as an independent, neutral state, we can monitor and defend our airspace and our seas”.
Mr Carthy said that he has “sought a briefing from the Department of Defence on this matter, so as to clarify the legal and constitutional matters that have arisen from today’s report” but he also urged Tánaiste Micheál Martin to make a public statement on the issue.
“This is a matter of considerable public interest and full disclosure of any arrangements with foreign governments in respect of Irish defence capacity is required,” he said.
When asked whether Sinn Féin would maintain the arrangements if the party were in government, Mr Carthy said his party was seeking further information on the deal.