Irish ministers under pressure to clarify ‘secret deal’ for RAF to defend Irish airspace in emergency | world news

The Irish government is in a rush to clarify details of a decades-old secret deal with the UK for RAF planes to help defend Irish airspace in the event of an emergency.

Sinn Fein are demanding the government craft the deal to ensure it doesn’t breach Ireland’s cherished neutrality, while a senator is taking the High Court to force the government to submit details to the Irish parliament.

Although never officially confirmed, the Anglo-Irish deal is believed to allow British Typhoon jets, most likely flying from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, to intercept threats in the information region Irish Flight Code (FIR) – offshore airspace in which Ireland is responsible for civil aviation safety and air traffic control, as well as transit through Irish sovereign airspace.

The reason? After decades of chronic underinvestment in its military, Ireland has no primary radar system capable of detecting, for example, Russian military planes once they have turned off their transponders – and has no planes. able to fly high enough or fast enough to interdict such a threat. , and identify it visually.

Former Irish Air Corps captain Kevin Phipps, now a commercial airline pilot, flew Ireland’s only combat aircraft, the Swiss-made Pilatus PC-9.

A turboprop aircraft, equipped with two machine guns, it has an effective operating ceiling of only 10,000 feet, well below the altitude at which Russian bombers or airliners cruise.

He told Sky News of the existence of the R.A.F. was an “open secret” among Irish pilots.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We all know the capabilities of the PC-9, and one of the capabilities it doesn’t have is to intercept fast moving aircraft, like a Russian ‘Bear’ bomber or a rogue airliner.

“It was a known secret, or a known fact, that we couldn’t intercept something like that.

“I think it’s in their [Britain’s] national interest that if something dishonest, for example a Russian Tu-95 bomber, were to come from the west, it is in the British national interest to respond to that, knowing that the Irish cannot.”

But even though the Irish Times reported this week that the deal dates back to 1952, Irish pilots were never officially told.

“Although it is an open secret or appears to be,” said Captain Phipps, “we were never shown any documents, we never understood any formal agreement, except for what has been portrayed in the media at the time, particularly after 9/11, and it was also periodically mentioned in the Irish parliament.”

Retired Irish Air Corps pilot Captain Kevin Phipps pictured with his family before his final military flight

The official policy is without comment

The agreement was mentioned in the Dail [Irish parliament] by elder taoisigh [prime ministers] over the years, but the official policy is one of no comment.

We asked Micheal Martin, Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister of Defense of Ireland, if he denied the existence of the arrangement with the British government.

He declined to do so, but said, “I believe that story is not accurate…in terms of the ban”.

When asked who would ban a Russian bomber, as the Irish Air Corps cannot, Mr Martin replied: “I said what I said, I won’t go any further in national security. These are not issues that you publicly identify…it doesn’t make sense, period. It just doesn’t make sense.

But he also admitted there ‘may have been occasions in the past’ when RAF aircraft have found themselves in Irish airspace ‘for different reasons’. He did not elaborate further.

Speaking in the Dail (Irish parliament) this week, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar said that “we don’t have an air force of nature from the UK, France, Russia or the United States and we never will.

Leo Varadkar said he understood the concerns of trade unionists
Leo Varadkar

“We have to put in place provisions for certain scenarios and we have provisions for certain scenarios to ensure our safety and our national security.”

The UK government is also reluctant to comment on any arrangement.

Last November however, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the Commons that “RAF jets have occasionally deployed in Irish airspace. It is up to the Irish Government to set policy on why, what when and how”.

In a statement, the RAF told Sky News that their “aircraft only operate in overseas domestic airspace when cleared to do so. We offer no comment on QRA [Quick Reaction Alert] operational detail.

But we were also told that there is a bilateral counter-terrorism agreement, under which Irish air traffic control can ‘coordinate’ with the RAF to identify any threats as they transition from Irish airspace to British airspace.

As frequently occurs in military aviation by intercepting and flying alongside the unresponsive intruder for visual identification, this is the closest clue we can get to what might be happening in the frame. of the agreement.

Veil of secrecy due to embarrassment of relying on British aid

The embarrassment of relying on British aid, a century after independence, is thought to be a contributing factor to the veil of secrecy thrown over the arrangement by the Irish.

Michael Mulqueen, professor of policing and national security at the University of Central Lancashire, said that “the defense of Irish sovereign territory by the United Kingdom would undoubtedly play a sensitive role in the minds of the Irish electorate, it no doubt”.

Professor Mulqueen has interviewed various senior Irish defense officials as part of his academic research and told them about the secret deal with the UK.

This leaves him with “no doubt that such an arrangement is in place”.

A British Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft takes off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on September 22, 2016 for a mission in Iraq.  REUTERS/Petros Karadjias/Pool
An RAF Typhoon aircraft taking off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus in 2016

But he says there are “legal difficulties” over how it could actually work, including a serious question about the legality of a British pilot taking deadly action in Irish-controlled airspace.

Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party, demands answers.

The party argues that the existence of the Anglo-Irish deal “only further exposes the dismal failure of successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fail governments to invest in our defense forces and to ensure that in as an independent and neutral state, we can monitor and defend our airspace and our seas”.

The party has requested more information from the government to clarify “legal and constitutional issues” arising from the arrangement.

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Typhoon planes seen flying over RAF Coningsby, central England,
Typhoon planes seen flying over RAF Coningsby in central England

“The time has come to put things straight”

A legal challenge is also underway to force the Irish government to release details of the deal into the public domain.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell – who served in both Army and the Irish Defense Forces over a long career – took the case to the Irish High Court on the grounds that the arrangement is unconstitutional.

“Now is the time to fix the problem,” said Mr Craughwell, who described the deal as “an unconscionable dilution of sovereignty”.

The Irish government maintains that the senator does not have the legal capacity to take up the case.

So the secret continues. A stark 2022 report by the government-appointed Defense Force Commission concluded that Ireland “has no air defense capability of any significance”. It recommended buying 12-24 fighter jets to defend Irish airspace, but there are still years to come.

Until then, Ireland will continue to rely on its former colonial master to defend itself in a crisis. Don’t expect to hear anyone in Dublin admit it.


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