WHILE Shannon Airport has faced numerous crises over the last 20 years, one of its steady sources of revenue has been the ongoing business provided by the US military.
How clearly this military use meant the alignment of Ireland with US policies has been hotly debated, with many protestors arguing it has left Ireland implicated in numerous human rights abuses, while successive Governments have argued neutrality is not compromised.
Every Government that has allowed the US military use has been led by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, but as time goes by it looks like that may not happen after the next election, with opinion polls showing Sinn Féin are likely to be the biggest party.
The party is a staunch critic of the US military use of the airport, and while other parties have raised concerns before entering Government, if Sinn Féin does enter government it is very likely to be as the senior rather than junior party in a coalition.
Speaking to the Clare Champion this week Senator Paul Gavan said that ending the use of the airport is a moral imperative, and one that would be a priority for Sinn Féin.
“Just to be clear I’m not making any assumption (about being in Government). But our policy in relation to Shannon Airport is clear and has been for several years.
“We want to see a thriving, commercial, civil airport. We do not want to see US troops working their way through our airport on the way to warzones. We don’t think it’s appropriate for an unaligned country to turn a blind eye. Our intention would be to bring those activities to an end.”
Peace group Shannonwatch estimate that in excess of three million US troops have travelled through Shannon since 2002 and undoubtedly the traffic has been valuable to Shannon, even though it has been highly controversial and has resulted in significant protests.
Asked about the impact on Shannon of cutting off the US military business, Mr Gavan said, “I entirely disagree with the narrative that we tie the future of our local civilian airport to the US military, I reject that entirely.
“The idea that we’re revenue rich and should turn a blind eye to the horrendous deaths and carnage across a range of countries, Syria, Iraq, a horrendous war in Yemen that we’re supporting because we’re making a few bob out of it, it’s not a narrative that makes any sense.
“We’d be far better to focus on rebalancing our air traffic. That’s how we support our airports, not by depending on the US military.”
Sinn Féin favours the reintegration of Shannon into an overall State airports body and he said it could revitalise it. “In fairness we’ve seen an all party Oireachtas committee make a range of excellent suggestions in terms of how we revive Shannon Airport and I’d love to see that happen.
“We have to ensure there’s a proper balance between the west and east coast and that can be achieved by joined up thinking and a joined up airport authority that has a clear balance for regional balance.”
John Lannon of peace group Shannonwatch said that it is not focusing on party politics, and reiterated the view that the continuing use of Shannon is a breach of neutrality.
“Rather than focusing on who will be in Government we focus on the policy. We want to see a change in relation to Shannon, we want to see an end to the use of the airport by the US military.
“We would hope that any Government that respects Irish neutrality and any Government that wants to be constructive about peaceful resolution of conflicts around the world would end support for the US military operations.”
However he acknowledged that Sinn Féín have supported its protests.
“We would be hopeful that a change of Government would bring a fresh look at this, we know that Sinn Féin representatives do attend our peace vigils, so on that basis we could hope they would be more amenable towards change.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.