‘Relying on RAF Jets to patrol Irish airspace undermines our neutrality’ Cathal Berry TD
A secret defence pact with the UK that has allowed RAF fighter jets to operate in Irish sovereign airspace for almost two decades has been kept under wraps because it is a source of “national humiliation and embarrassment”, it has been claimed.
The bilateral agreement was drawn up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US and permits RAF Typhoon supersonic fighters to intercept and shoot down rogue aircraft violating Irish airspace.
Senior military sources confirmed that there have been “numerous” incidents where UK jets were scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft traversing Irish airspace with their transponders turned off, which could pose a risk of mid-air collisions with commercial planes.
Dr Cathal Berry, an independent TD and former member of the elite Army Ranger Wing, said that the agreement is in place because Ireland as a supposedly militarily neutral state is unable to defend itself from outside aggression.
But now he has expressed concerns that the secret defence pact may be unconstitutional under Article 15(6) of the Irish Constitution, which states that only the Oireachtas can authorise a foreign military force to operate within the State or on behalf of the State.
“There has never been a motion before the Dáil and there hasn’t been legislation published concerning it,” Deputy Berry told the Irish Independent.
“It is unusual for such an arrangement to be in place without the approval of the legislature or even the involvement of the Defence Forces.
“The fact that we are defenceless is an incongruity, given that we fought so hard for our independence as a nation, and here we are a century later unwilling to provide the necessary resources to patrol our own sovereign air space.
“It completely undermines our status as a militarily neutral state that we have to rely on the RAF,” he added.
Mr Berry, who was second in command of the special forces unit and later a military medical officer, entered politics last year to advocate on behalf of the Defence Forces personnel – whom he said are under-resourced, underpaid and have been treated with “contempt” for decades by the Department of Defence.
The Department of Defence has consistently refused to comment on the unofficial arrangement with the UK, claiming that the responsibility lies with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
That department is now led by Simon Coveney, who holds the dual role of Minister for Defence.
A spokesperson for that department previously told the Irish Independent: “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cannot comment on any reports concerning national security matters or responses that might be taken in the event of an attack on Ireland or a serious and immediate security threat to Ireland and the Irish people.”
Sources have revealed that the general officer commanding (GOC) the Air Corps and his senior staff were only “given sight of the agreement document” after a story was published in the Examiner newspaper in August 2016.
A source told the Irish Independent: “The Department of Defence only confirmed the existence of this agreement after the Air Corps insisted on getting a response.
“The Air Corps GOC and senior staff were summoned to the Department of Defence and allowed to read the document, but were not given a copy. It sums up the Government’s attitude to the Defence Forces and our national