Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny today challenged the Taoiseach in the Dáil that up to 63 American military aircraft over-flew Irish airspace ten days ago.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern replied that he didn't have those figures at hand, but said that he could confirm that so far this year 61 military aircraft had landed in Shannon.

He also rejected opposition claims that Ireland is participating in the war on Iraq.

Ahern told the Dáil that a very limited number of US planes are currently using Shannon and added that he didn't anticipate any significant increase in the period ahead.

He said it is usual that a few days notice is given if the use of Shannon is required and the government had not received any indications of any further use.

He said there is no question of civilian aircraft commissioned by the American military carrying large-scale weaponry over Irish airspace.

He also confirmed that no US military aircraft had used Baldonnel airport since the military build up began last autumn.

Ruling on US use of Shannon to be delayed

A legal challenge to the Government's allowing Shannon Airport to be used by US aircraft engaged in the war in Iraq will proceed at the High Court on Thursday.

However, the case is expected to run to the end of the present law term, 11 April, with judgement likely to be reserved.

A decision on the action by retired Army officer Edward Horgan, against the Government and State, may not be given before 28 April, after the next law term opens.

In his case, Mr Horgan is to call a military witness who will testify that the permitting of over-flights and re-fuelling by the US military at Shannon constitute participation by Ireland in the war.

His lawyers will also cross-examine Mr Keith McBean, a counsellor in the Department of Foreign Affairs, about his claim that the activities at Shannon are a continuation of what has been going on there for some 50 years.