Header Item Naval Service Operations (Continued)
 Header Item Military Aircraft
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item HIQA Reports

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 932 No. 3
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe] The objectives are not only to obstruct the activities of smugglers and traffickers but to also prevent further loss of life at sea and to reduce the suffering and exploitation of migrants caused by criminal organisations. Ireland is committed to addressing the humanitarian aspect of the crisis arising from the large numbers of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. While Ireland is fully supportive of the EU response to the crisis, there are no plans to deploy naval personnel or vessels to the EU mission at this time. In addition-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Minister of State should be brief because he has gone over time.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I congratulate the Irish Defence Forces, which include the Air Corps, the Army and the Naval Service. on receiving the European Movement award yesterday in Dublin. The award was presented by the Taoiseach to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.

  Question No. 38 replied to with Written Answers.

Military Aircraft

 39. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny if his Department carries out periodic reviews of defence policy and decisions to ensure they uphold Ireland's stated policy of neutrality; if he has had any discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the ongoing use of Shannon Airport by the US military as a result of concerns raised by groups (details supplied) over its potential implications for Irish neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39839/16]

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace Does the Minister of State's Department carry out any periodic reviews of defence policy and decisions to ensure that Ireland's stated policy of neutrality is being upheld? Has the Minister of State spoken with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in light of the fact that US military hardware is still passing through Ireland on its way to war zones? How does this tie in with our notion of neutrality, military or otherwise?

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe The White Paper on Defence 2015 provides for the establishment of a new fixed cycle of defence reviews. These reviews will take the form of a White Paper update every three years and a strategic defence review every six years. The first White Paper update will commence in the third quarter of 2018, with the first strategic defence review commencing in early 2021. Our policy on neutrality has been confirmed in the White Paper.

The issues of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Both my Department and the Defence Forces are informed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when requests are received for foreign military overflights or landings. This information serves to alert the Defence Forces, in particular, to a potential request for support from An Garda Síochána in the case of a request for landing approval at Shannon.

As has been highlighted many times in the House, successive Governments have made overflight and landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions, which are applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

The recent debate on the Private Members’ Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2016 clearly demonstrated that Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality is sufficiently safeguarded through existing constitutional provisions, through the protocol in the Lisbon treaty, through the Defence Acts and through long-term policy strategies adopted by Government.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace In November 2014, two planes passed through Shannon Airport coming from Delaware. They were carrying class 1 liquid fuel explosives and rockets and class 1 explosives and rockets with bursting charges. I have heard Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael condemn the Russian use of cluster bombs in Aleppo. I condemn their use as well. Why in God's name are we allowing cluster bombs to go through our airspace to Saudi Arabia? The US is backing the Saudi mission in Yemen, a country in which there is an absolute humanitarian disaster. Cluster bombs going through Ireland are killing innocent people in Yemen on a daily basis. A UNICEF report last week showed that 2.2 million children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition. There is a child dying every ten minutes as a result of malnutrition, not to mention those being killed by cluster bombs or bombs of another nature. How can we say we are neutral if we are allowing this to happen? I do not understand it.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces in the White Paper on Defence is the provision of aid to the civil power. In practice, this means that the Defence Forces assist An Garda Síochána when requested to do so. Since 2003, the Garda has requested support from the Defence Forces at Shannon Airport on occasion. The issues of overflights by foreign military aircraft and the use of Shannon by foreign military aircraft are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It should be highlighted that successive Governments have made overflight landing facilities available at Shannon Airport to the United States for well over 50 years. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are governed by strict conditions applied to ensure compatibility with our traditional policy of military neutrality. The Deputy has made suggestions. If he is aware of any such cluster bombs being on board these aircraft, I ask him to go to An Garda Síochána to report that fact.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace We were given the information through an FOI request. We are not making it up. When we were being tried down in Shannon, three people testified under oath that they had seen weapons on board military planes. It is not rocket science. If we were neutral, we would not only condemn the Russians for using cluster bombs or engaging in war crimes, we would criticise everyone who engages in war crimes. However, we do not do so. We are taking sides. Only recently, a leaked document has shown that Barack Obama and Joe Biden knew that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the leading funders and weapons suppliers of extreme jihadi insurgents in Syria and yet arms are being transported from America, through Ireland and on to these people. They have escalated the situation in Syria. They have turned a blind eye to the fact that Saudi Arabia has been arming jihadist insurgents in Syria. The most important step we could take is to stop any foreign power from using our airports and airspace to transport instruments of war, whether bullets, soldiers, bombs or guns. Let us become a neutral country again.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 the carriage of weapons through Shannon Airport on commercial aircraft is prohibited unless an exemption has been obtained in advance from my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The carriage of personal weapons by foreign military personnel travelling on chartered aircraft transiting through Shannon Airport is subject to the issuance of such an exemption in respect of each individual flight.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I thank the Minister of State and all the Deputies who participated on Question Time.

  Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Topical Issue Debate

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The first matter is in the names of Deputies Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley and relates to the HIQA report on Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise. Both Deputies will have two minutes, the Minister of State will have four minutes to reply and the Deputies will have one minute each afterwards.

HIQA Reports

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I want to raise the issue of the recent HIQA report into the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise. I am very pleased to meet the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, here. I wish him well in his Department and I know his heart is in the right place when it comes to health and disability.

I am saying clearly on the record of the House that I need to speak to the Minister, Deputy Harris, directly on this issue. Any plans by the Department of Health will go nowhere until such time as we have proper consultation with the Minister on the matter. The recent HIQA report contained nothing that was a surprise to me. Essentially, the report says that progress is being made in the maternity unit at Portlaoise hospital but that investment is required in the medical and intensive care unit in order to bring them up to standard. This has been known for quite some time but the HSE has not yet taken action. It should get a move on and do so immediately.

The main issue highlighted in the HIQA report relates to the difficulties in the accident and emergency department. The problem is that there are a large number of patients - over 36,000 - attending the emergency department in Portlaoise each year. There is not the appropriate number of consultant staff to deal with these patients and neither is there a named emergency consultant available on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The answer is very simple. We have to take the necessary steps to ensure that we have enough consultants and medical and nursing staff available in the emergency department at Portlaoise hospital to deal with the patients who arrive there. Remarkably, the HSE's response to this problem is to consider cutting the number of hours the emergency department is open, thereby reducing the numbers attending to match the number of staff it wants to employ. This attitude by the HSE is totally wrong and if it represents the ethos of the HSE at national level, it has to be fundamentally changed.


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