Dermot Ahern quizzed the US Ambassador about allegations that illegal “extraordinary rendition” flights holding people kidnapped by American intelligence agencies were routed through Shannon, a secret US diplomatic cable reveals.
While the cable, published by Wikileaks, describes the Irish justice minister as “engaged, warm, and open, acting as if he had all the time in the world”, and says he “genuinely welcomed the Ambassador”, it also says that of the nine topics raised during the meeting, this was the only one which “agitated” him.
“While Ahern’s public stance on extraordinary renditions is rock-solid, his musings during the meeting seemed less assured,” the cable says.
“This was the only issue during the meeting that agitated him; he spent considerable time dwelling on it. Ahern seemed to be fishing for renewed assurances from the Ambassador that no rendition flights have transited Ireland, or would transit in the future.”
The cable also notes that Ahern “seemed quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refueled at Shannon airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere.”
However, the justice minister appears to have been more concerned with the political backlash if it ever emerged that kidnap victims had been smuggled through Shannon than about the human rights implications.
The cable says Ahern noted he had “put his neck on the chopping block and would pay a severe political price if it ever turned out that rendition flights had entered Ireland or if one was discovered in the future.”
The minister said he “could use a little more information” about the flights, and suggested “it might not be a bad idea to allow the random inspection of a few planes to proceed, which would provide cover if a rendition flight ever surfaced.”
Keeping in mind that the wording is that of an American report of the meeting, the use of the word “allow” is particularly interesting. Ahern, if he used that word, does not seem to have realised that An Garda Siochána do not need American permission to board and inspect aeroplanes on Irish soil.
At the meeting, Ahern also discussed Irish illegal immigrants in the USA, Irish involvement in UN peacekeeping operations, the Lisbon treaty, immigration pre-clearance arrangements at Irish airports, and nine former Guantanamo prisoners Ireland had agreed to accept.
The only other topic that seems to have led to Ahern making any demand of the ambassador was the annual St Patrickâ€™s Day visit to the White House. He agreed that the format of the annual event could be changed, but was insistent that the photo-opportunity where the taoiseach presented Barack Obama with a bowl of shamrocks was sacrosanct.