The agreement, believed to date back to the 1950s, allegedly states that British Typhoon jets could intercept threats in the Irish Flight Information Region (FIR).
The reason for this is that after decades of underinvestment, Ireland lacks a primary radar system capable of detecting threats from some aircraft once they have turned their transponders off.
Furthermore, the Irish Air Force does not currently have an aircraft which can fly high or fast enough to interdict or identify enemy aircraft.
Ireland’s only combat aircraft, the turboprop Swiss Pilatus PC-9, is equipped with two machine guns and an operational ceiling of just 10,000 feet, much lower than a Russian bomber or rogue airliner for example.
Speaking to Sky, former Irish Air Corps Pilot Kevin Phipps, said the deal with the RAF was an “open secret” among Irish pilots.
He added: “We all know the capabilities of the PC-9, and one of the capabilities it doesn’t have is to intercept fast-moving aircraft, such as a Russian “Bear” bomber or 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 rogue, for instance, a Russian Tu-95 bomber, were to come from the west, it’s in the British national interest to respond to that, knowing that the Irish can’t.”
Although the Irish Times reported last week that the agreement allegedly dates back to 1952, Irish pilots have reportedly never been briefed.
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Captain Phipps added: “While it’s an open secret or seems to be, we were never shown any documents, we never understood any formal agreements bar what was outlined in the media at the time.”
Following Captain Phipps’ comments, the Irish government’s policy is one of no comment.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister and defence minister Micheal Martin has reportedly denied the existence of the deal. He said that he believed the story “is not accurate…in terms of interdiction”.
However, Mr Martin admitted there may have been occasions when RAF aircraft may have been in Irish airspace for “different reasons”.
Speaking in the Dale (Irish Parliament) last week, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “We do not have an air force of the nature of the United Kingdom, France, Russia, or the US and we never will.
“We have to put in arrangements for certain scenarios and we have arrangements for certain scenarios to assure our safety and national security.”
The British government too, is coy about the presence of RAF jets in Irish airspace. Last November, Armed Forces minister James Heappey said: “RAF jets have deployed into Irish airspace on occasion. It is for the Irish Government to set out their policy on why, when and how.”
The RAF said their “aircraft only operate in Foreign National Airspace when authorised to do so. We do not offer comment on QRA [Quick Reaction Alert] operational detail”.
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