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No aircraft inspections as highest monthly munitions exemptions reported

The Department of Transport’s failure to inspect aircraft at Shannon Airport leaves Ireland relying on the good faith of those transporting munitions through Irish sovereign territory.

By Conor O’Carroll

The highest number of munitions exemptions since 2016 was granted by the Department of Transport in October, raising questions over whether Ireland has facilitated the supply of munitions to the ongoing conflict in Gaza through its sovereign territory.

182 applications were granted by the Department last month, up from 122 in September. This represents the highest monthly total from the available records, which date back to 2016.

The figures come from the routinely published statistics on the number of exemptions granted to civil aircraft under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Orders 1973 and 1989.

Under these orders, “it is expressly prohibited for civil aircraft to carry munitions of war in Irish sovereign territory, without being granted an exemption to do so by the Minister for Transport”, Minister of State Jack Chambers TD said in response to a parliamentary question posed by independent TD, Thomas Pringle, in September.

The latest figures show that there was a 42% increase in the number of applications received by the Department in October, though it should be noted that the figures are based on the date the Department issued a decision on each application, not the date the application was received or the date of the flight itself.

The vast majority of the exemptions granted (158) permitted flights to fly through Irish sovereign territory, while the remaining 24 exemptions permitted flights to land and take off from Ireland.

These flights relate to civilian aircraft that are contracted by militaries, typically the US, to transport munitions to different parts of the globe. Some exceptions also relate to diplomatic flights where security personnel are armed.

The Department also does not appear to inspect the planes that land in Ireland, to ensure they are carrying what their applications say

Designated military aircraft are the responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs and any aircraft wishing to enter Irish airspace requires diplomatic clearance from the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

This clearance is subject to strict conditions, according to the government, with a requirement that the aircraft be unarmed, carrying no arms and not be part of intelligence gathering or a military operation.

The presence of US military aircraft in Irish airspace has been a hotly debated topic for many years. Peace activists have long demanded that Ireland end its arrangement with the US military, arguing that it violates the constitutional protection of neutrality.

Two weeks ago pro-Palestinian supporters staged a protest outside the Department of Transport, demanding that Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD, stop providing exemptions to US military aircraft headed for Israel.

Many of the munitions carried through Irish airspace on US military aircraft drop off at regional bases, such as in Eastern Europe for Ukrainian supplies, or in bases in the Middle East, meaning tracking where the munitions end up is practically impossible.

Village asked the Department of Transport whether it seeks the final destination of any munitions it provides an exemption for. A spokesperson for the Department did not respond specifically, but did say that the exemption “is not an approval to land at any airport outside the State”.

The Department also does not appear to inspect the planes that land in Ireland, to ensure they are carrying what their applications say.

In the same response to Pringle, Minister Chambers said “insofar as it can be determined, there is no record of an inspection of a civil aircraft having been carried out pursuant to these Orders”.

The latest figures show that there was a 42% increase in the number of applications received by the Department in October.

A Department spokesperson told Village: “While the orders do provide for the inspection of a civil aircraft to ensure compliance, it is only whenever it appears that a flight would be in contravention of them. There is no provision for such an inspection without this prerequisite”.

They also provided the same response from Minister Chambers when asked whether an aircraft had ever been inspected.

“The complete lack of willingness to inspect the flights is shocking”, Pringle told Village.

“As an independent state we can take the view that other states can transit through our airports and airspace but the very least we could do is check that they are complying with our laws and respecting our status as a neutral independent state”, he continued.


One of the US military aircraft that flew through Irish airspace last month disappeared off-radar over Jordan, Village Magazine can reveal, further complicating the task of tracking the final destination of the aircraft and its cargo.

The aircraft, which is owned by Omni Air International, entered Irish airspace in the early hours of 11 October 11 en route to Bulgaria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

It had taken off from Bangor International Airport, in Maine, the previous evening, but had made stops at Hill Air Force Base in Utah and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota before crossing the Atlantic.

The aircraft also used a call sign reserved for the US Transportation Command (CMB), the US Department of Defence body responsible for providing the US military with air, land, and sea transportation.

Source: ADS-B Exchange

Flight logs show that the aircraft disappeared abruptly over Jordan, before reappearing several hours later and continuing on its journey, suggesting it turned off its transponder to mask its location.

This practice isn’t unusual when travelling over or close to a warzone, but the time difference between the pings on the map above is significant.

A spokesperson confirmed that this aircraft received an exemption from the Department of Transport in Ireland.

Tracking six other US military aircraft since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, Village found a further five ‘disappearances’ over Jordan, though in every other case, the aircraft avoided entering Irish airspace.

The flight logs of these seven aircraft also show there have been at least 26 layovers in Shannon Airport since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, and one in Dublin. Thirteen of these layovers arrived from the US and went on to connect to US military bases in Europe and the Middle East.

Eleven of these flights had also visited US military bases before crossing the Atlantic and eight arrived using CMB call signs, though several flights that arrived with alternative call signs changed to CMB upon leaving Shannon.

There were also a further 35 entries into Irish airspace by these aircraft. Almost half (16) of these came from aircraft connecting to US military bases in Europe & the Middle East.

All sixteen of these flights passed through Irish airspace using CMB call signs, while nine of them visited US military bases before crossing the Atlantic.

One of the aircraft found by Village that landed in Shannon did not receive an exemption, according to a response to a parliamentary question by Minister Chambers.

The aircraft in question, which is owned by Eastern Airlines, landed in Shannon on the 17 October having visited Nellis Air Force Base before taking off from Bangor International Airport.

After leaving Shannon, it travelled to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates before returning to the US, again via Shannon Airport.

Minister Chamber told independent TD, Catherine Connolly, that “no exemptions permitting the carriage of munitions of war on civil aircraft in Irish sovereign territory were granted”.

The flight logs of these seven aircraft also show there have been at least 26 layovers in Shannon Airport since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, and one in Dublin

When questioned whether any steps were taken to ensure this was the case, Minister Chambers replied: “Given previous engagement with the airline and its awareness of the requirements of Irish law regarding the carriage of munitions of war on board aircraft in Irish sovereign airspace, it was not deemed necessary to follow-up on any particular flight that an exemption had not been sought for”.

A Department spokesperson did not respond to questions on how it could be sure of compliance if it has never inspected an aircraft, nor did they answer whether relying on good faith was sufficient.

When asked by Village whether she felt it was possible munitions destined for Israel had passed through Irish sovereign territory, Connolly said “these are the questions [that need to be asked]” and that we “simply don’t know” because the government is “looking the other way”.

She said the lack of inspections on aircraft was making a “mockery of our neutrality” and that while the Minister had reassured her of compliance, she wasn’t interested in reassurance, asking for evidence instead.