Minister pledges ‘legal mechanisms’ within six months to allow random weapons checks on aircraft

Eamon Ryan says it is ‘possible, timely and appropriate’ to develop rules to allow searches in ‘an appropriate manner that does not weaken or damage our diplomatic relations’

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has pledged to “develop the legal mechanisms” within six months to allow random routine checks of aircraft for illegal weapons.

He said it is “possible, timely and appropriate” to develop rules to allow searches in “an appropriate manner that does not weaken or damage our diplomatic relations but, rather, does the exact opposite”.

The Minister was responding in the Seanad to the introduction of the Air Navigation and Transport (Arms Embargo) Bill, introduced by Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins of the Civil Engagement group, which aims to ensure compulsory checks on flights.

The Upper House agreed by 22 votes to 12 to delay the passage of her Bill for six months while the Minister developed the “legal mechanisms” to allow for random routine checks of civilian aircraft.

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Ms Higgins said a delay of six months “is hundreds of nights of terror for the people of Gaza. It is six more months when Ireland does not know how complicit we might be.”

Later, outside the Seanad, the Minister stated he would introduce legislation for checks of civilian aircraft and that “no airport in Ireland, or Irish sovereign airspace, has been used to transport weapons directly to Israel”.

Ms Higgins had told the Seanad that “even though the regulations allow for inspections, they are not happening. Under this Government, since 2020, there have been zero inspections of planes which we know, because they sought exemptions, are carrying weapons, munitions or dangerous goods.”

The Bill would ensure there are no more “exemptions on flights either bringing these dangerous goods and weapons directly to Israel, or bringing them to or from the countries supplying arms to Israel”.

“To be clear, the majority of exemptions have been given to the United States and Germany, which are the largest arms suppliers to Israel,” Ms Higgins said.

“Germany went from €32 million in arms exports to Israel in 2022 to a tenfold increase, with more than €300 million in arms sent to Israel during this brutal attack on Gaza. In such a context it is unconscionable that we could be part of this arms supply chain.”

Mr Ryan said the State granted 1,185 exemptions last year, adding that “on a small number of occasions exemptions are not granted” if aircraft are carrying more than personal weapons.

He said personal weapons could be carried for a variety of different reasons. “You might have a personal protection officer accompanying a diplomat, head of state, or whatever.”

“Of the 1,185 exemptions granted last year, 275 of these aircraft landed in Ireland. A further 309 of the exemptions were granted to Irish-registered aircraft operating entirely outside of Ireland and Irish airspace.”

The Minister stressed that “they are not allowed to fly with any weapon without that exemption. The procedure in place is well-understood and we have no evidence of any non-compliance.”

Ms Higgins pointed to countries such as the Netherlands which introduced new measures to respond to the UN Human Rights Council, “which has directly called for an arms embargo on Israel at this time. We already have a tool in place that we do not use adequately.

“This is why the Bill is necessary. Under the existing legislation, the Minister has the discretion to grant exemptions. I am sure when it was originally drafted it was envisaged the exemptions would be rare, but exemptions have become the rule.”

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said Mr Ryan knew he should be carrying out inspections and not “granting exemptions, carte blanche. Every unchecked aircraft is as good as putting Ireland’s signature or stamp of approval on a missile.”

The Minister, however, insisted “there is no carte blanche. There are occasions on which we say ‘No’.”

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