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12 November 1998 Edition

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Gardai allowed British overflight

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin has described as ``ambiguous and unsatisfactory'' the reply to him from the Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews regarding overflights by British military aircraft into the 26 Counties.

Deputy O Caoláin put down a Dáil Question to the Minister asking for a statement on the overflight into County Louth by a British military aircraft on 15 October and on the procedure used to give Irish government clearance for such incursions.

In reply the Minister said that the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952 provided for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to grant permission and that there were ``long-standing arrangements'' for British aircraft to fly ``with permission and subject to strict conditions'' into this jurisdiction. ``A number of different channels of communication are used, depending on the purpose of the flight, and in a number of cases security considerations apply,'' said the Minister.

However O Caoláin said that he had been told by Department of Foreign Affairs officials that clearance for the 15 October flight had been given by gardai, not by the Minister. Deputy O Caoláin said:

``The Minister seems reluctant to reveal that his powers have effectively been devolved to gardai on the ground who clear overflights by the British and then inform the Department. It is my information that this was the case on 15 October. This is totally unacceptable and allowing these British overflights undermines the efforts of all of us to achieve demilitarisation of the border.''

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