Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary: Belarus guilty of "State-Sponsored Hijacking. RollingNews.ie photo
By Irish Echo Staff
There was uproar on the ground after what many world governments are seeing as a state-sponsored hijacking of a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
And while Ireland was many miles from the incident that fact the plane was Irish placed Dublin in the eye of the storm.
The plane's captain was informed that there was a bomb on board and was ordered to fly under a Mig fighter escort to Minsk, the capital of Belarus,. Upon landing a passenger, a well known journalist from Belarus, was taken off the plane. A number of other passengers did not return when the plane was released for take off. It is believed they were Belarus KGB agents.
The journalist, Roman Protasevich, is a prominent critic of President Alexander Lukashenko and his government.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is closely aligned with Moscow and just about nobody else. And that is now even more the case.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the forced landing of the Ryanair plane in Belarus Sunday was a "state-sponsored coercive act" and was "absolutely unacceptable."
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne show, Martin said the EU, by way of the European Council, must respond "very strongly."
According to an RTÉ report, Martin described a statement from the Belarusian authorities insisting that they acted legally as "nonsense."
"We all know what happened here. Don't be hiding behind excuses," he said.
"You forced the plane down to arrest a journalist whose views you don't agree with. You arrested that individual and that is contrary to any sense of human decency or democratic values.
"There has to be measures that respond firmly to an act of this kind, which put crew and passengers at risk. "It's piracy in the skies and it's just not acceptable. There are international rules there and they have to apply."
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, also described the incident as "state-sponsored aviation piracy."
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme, Mr. Coveney said the EU must give a "very clear response" to the incident.
Coveney said the regime in Belarus had "no democratic legitimacy" and was "behaving as a dictatorship."
He added: "If there's indecision or weakness shown by the EU here, it'll reinforce in the minds of the decision makers in Belarus that they've done the right thing here. So I think the response has to be clear, tough and needs to happen quickly."
Mr. Coveney said he did not know for certain if reports that Belarusian KGB officials were on the Ryanair plane were true. He said that when the plane landed, five or six people did not re-board the plane when it took off again.
"But only one or two people were actually arrested. So that certainly would suggest that a number of other people who left the plane were secret service. We don't know from what country, but clearly linked to the Belarusian regime."
Ryanair group chief executive, Michael O'Leary, described the incident as "state-sponsored hijacking."
Speaking to Ireland's Newstalk radio, O'Leary said: "It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the airport as well."
The Irish Airline Pilots Association has called for sanctions on the Belarus government.
IALPA president, Captain Evan Cullen, said it was outrageous and unacceptable that a sovereign state such as Belarus would apparently issue a false bomb threat in order to control a flight back into its own airspace.
"You cannot be telling pilots they could have a bomb on board or a possible security threat when it is actually a hoax, and what they are actually trying to do is to arrest one of the passengers," Captain Cullen said.
He said it was clear from the flight data that IALPA had looked at that the aircraft was about to leave Belarus airspace, and the Belarus government had "panicked somewhat" in trying to retrieve the aircraft for the passenger they were targeting.
The flight path from Athens to Vilnius included a portion in Belarus airspace.
According to the Washington Post, European leaders were considering a plan to sever Belarus from the rest of the continent's airspace. Airlines, meanwhile, were rerouting their flights around Belarus.
EU leaders are considering a European ban on flights from Belavia, the Belarusian national airline, possibly declaring Belarus’s airspace unsafe, and other possible measures, this according to diplomats and other officials, the Post was reporting.