Dáil Questions: Foreign Affairs

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Dáil Issues, Foreign Affairs, Oral Questions

To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views in relation to the representations he has made to the British and Northern Ireland authorities in relation to the escalating tensions in Maghaberry prison, and the failure to implement the stock take agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 26th February, 2015.

REPLY

There has been an increase in tensions in the prison in recent weeks. This is due in part to the issuing of threats by prisoners against Prison Service officials in a context where a serving prison officer, David Black, was murdered by dissidents in November 2012. It is also related to recent construction work in Roe House intended to increase the space available to prisoners in the separated regime for association.  However, it appears the well meaning intentions behind the works were not effectively communicated in advance to inmates.

A protest by a small number of prisoners on 2 February ended with both the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, David Ford, and the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Sue McAllister, reporting no injuries to staff or prisoners.  I am aware that some prisoners have said that they were injured during the protest.  Members of the independent assessment team have since met with prisoners and prison management to hear their perspectives on the protest and on how best to take things forward.

Despite the increase in tension, I take some encouragement from renewed calls by both the Northern Ireland Prison Service and prisoner representatives for the full implementation of the stocktake report. It is important that this work continue with the good will and support of all the relevant stake holders.  The Northern Ireland Prison Service has reiterated its commitment to the implementation of the report’s recommendations. It would certainly facilitate progress if all threats against those working in the prison administration were lifted. All such threats are completely unacceptable, and serve only to frustrate the process of improving the atmosphere in the prison.  The independent assessment group continues with their engagement, to encourage the implementation of their recommendations, and would be open to a meeting with the Deputy to discuss on-going concerns.

I have discussed prison issues with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, most recently on 11 February. I also met in January with a member of the independent assessment group which completed the stocktake Report of September 2014.  My officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continuously monitor the situation at Maghaberry Prison, including through contact with their counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office and officials in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, as well as members of the independent assessment group, and have been keeping me closely informed of developments.

Question No. 10

To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there are plans to transfer responsibility for the oversight of all military aircraft, including civilian aircraft carrying troops and seeking weapons exemptions passing through Irish airports and airspace, to his Department in the interests of transparency and accountability; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 26th February, 2015.

REPLY

As I have outlined in previous replies, responsibility for the regulation of foreign aircraft is determined by whether such aircraft are designated as civil or military aircraft.

The regulation of civil aircraft is governed by the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention) which came into force on 4 April 1947.  Ireland’s rights and obligations under the Convention have been incorporated into Irish law through the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1946, as amended.  The legislation provides that the Minister for Transport has primary responsibility for the regulation of civil aircraft, including chartered flights.  Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, as amended in 1989, civil aircraft are prohibited from carrying weapons or munitions over Ireland or into Irish airports unless they receive an exemption from the Minister for Transport.

Responsibility for the regulation of activity by foreign military aircraft is accorded to the Minister for Foreign Affairs under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952.  This Order states that “military aircraft” means “aircraft used in military service” and that aircraft “including naval, military and air force aircraft, and every aircraft commanded by a person in naval, military or air force service detailed for the purpose shall be deemed to be an aircraft used in military service”.

Arrangements under which permission is granted for foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports are governed by strict conditions.  These include stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and must not engage in intelligence gathering, and that the flights in question must not form part of military exercises or operations.

The respective roles of my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in relation to the regulation of military and civil aircraft are consistent with international practice.  I do not consider that any changes are warranted in relation to my Department’s role in these matters.