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2005-03-17

St. Patrick’s Day Special: Irish Peace Activists Protest U.S. Use of Shannon Airport in Iraq War

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To commemorate St. Patrick’s Day, we take a look at the use of Shannon airport by U.S. troops en route to Iraq as well as the case of three Irish peace activists recently acquitted after their arrest during a protest against President Bush. [includes rush transcript]

Today is May 17th–St. Patrick’s Day–when people across the country celebrate the Saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.

To commemorate the occasion, we look at the case of three Irish anti-war activists who were acquitted after their arrest during a protest against President Bush.

The three were arrested in a small rowing boat in the river Shannon as they held up a sign that read "Bush Go Home" during the president’s visit to Ireland in June 2004. The Irish government said they failed to obey instructions to leave a temporary exclusion zone set up for Bush’s visit.

The judge dismissed the case saying there was no evidence of any refusal by them to comply with the instructions.

  • Aron Baker, one of the defendants in the case. He is a member of the Mid-West Alliance Against Military Aggression

Another member of the group–Tim Hourigan–spoke about Shannon airport and its use as a stopover for U.S. troops in the Iraq war.

  • Tim Hourigan

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On a trip to Ireland earlier this year, I spoke with Aron Baker, one of the defendants in the case. He began by explaining why he took part in his protest.

ARON BAKER: When President Bush came to visit Ireland, his little stopover to Shannon, Dromoland Castle, anti-war activists and similar were at a peace camp basically in the area, and some colleagues of mine, Ed Horgan, a retired army commandant from the Irish forces and a friend of ours, Eibhlin ni Hir, decided to basically take to the water to protest his visit, exercise our constitutional rights to protest, and we — Ed had organized it. He had his boat there, and it was a small boat, about 12 feet. And we took to the water at Bunratty, just maybe a couple of miles away from Shannon Airport. And we went out. We — before taking to the water, Ed and Eibhlin did brief media interviews with interested media parties there. And then we took to the water and progressed out with a small engine we had, out towards the airport. In order to get out there, obviously, we were under engine power, but the water levels are very low. There’s a lot of mud flats. And as we were progressing out there, a police — a garda patrol boat approached us and then just waved at us once and veered away. And we progressed on until a helicopter flew overhead, and then the navy and the gardi both kind of simultaneously zeroed in on us, and we —- at that stage, the engine was foul in the mud. We were in very shallow water. So we had stopped temporarily, and the navy approached us, and basically, despite what they claim, they basically arrested us on the spot for what they later claim was breaching the exclusion zone, which was not marked in any shape or form or pre-announced in any shape or form, or hugely minimally, not to our knowledge at all. And we were then arrested. We were towed into deeper water and then transferred onto the garda patrol boats before being taken to the Foynes Harbour, where the gardi and other powers that be had a huge private powwow about what to do with us and then took us to Askeaton Garda Station where we were held, and then we were taken to Ennis Court, where we were released on bail. And having been charged with breaching the exclusion zone under the Harbours Act, we were then later charged with a public order offense, failing to obey a garda, and from there, we went to trial, basically. The trial was drawn out over a period of time, and the actual trial took place last week. But we were well represented by counsel, a solicitor and barristers and the -—

AMY GOODMAN: What did the judge say?

ARON BAKER: The judge for a finish dismissed all charges against us. He actually said that he found in all cases with the defense, and that basically, there was no — there was no — no warrant for our being arrested, none of — all that we had been arrested for was pretty groundless, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did you protest?

ARON BAKER: Why did I protest? I protested because I’m not happy with the use of Shannon Airport by U.S. military, the U.S. military machine. I don’t like seeing them coming through the airport, because I know that what they’re going to do is basically death and destruction, which is just not justified in any shape or form.

AMY GOODMAN: Aron Baker of the Mid-West Alliance Against Military Aggression, speaking in Dublin in January. Another member of the group, Tim Hourigan, talked about Shannon Airport and its use as a stopover for U.S. troops going to Iraq.

TIM HOURIGAN: My name is Tim Hourigan, and I’m with the Mid-West Alliance Against Military Aggression, which is a peace group based in Limerick, only 16 miles from Shannon Airport. And we have been monitoring Shannon Airport since late September, early October 2001, because of the U.S. military use of Shannon Airport in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, and Shannon Airport, although it’s supposedly a civilian international airport in the west of Ireland, is actually a vital hub for movement of troops and explosives and other weapons from the United States to the theater of war, where they’re used on innocent people. Last year, 158,000 U.S. troops came through Shannon Airport. With that figure is actually higher than the number of troops currently in Iraq, and they used Shannon Airport because it’s got not only one of the longest civilian runways in Western Europe, but also because it’s the first major runway to get to. They can land at Shannon, save fuel and take more troops, more explosives that they wouldn’t be able to bring if they needed to put more weight of fuel on the airport by flying farther. So it’s actually the most efficient way for them to put the troops in harm’s way, have them occupy the country and get the weapons of war out there from the continental U.S., is to come through Shannon Airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Do the troops know where they’re going?

TIM HOURIGAN: Some of them don’t know that they’re in Shannon until they get off the plane. Some members of our group had an opportunity to meet some of the younger troops inside the airport, and I mean, they knew that they were going to Iraq, but they said that they didn’t actually want to go there, but a lot of them, they know where they’re going to, but they’re not informed of any point in between, really. And it’s rare enough we get to talk to them, because myself and a number of others have had high court injunctions preventing us going to the airport anymore. So we don’t get to talk to many of them, but we see them through telescopes, and they all look very young and quite nervous, most of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Why can’t you talk to them? What do you mean you have an injunction?

TIM HOURIGAN: The authority that runs the airport took an injunction against 22 people, including myself, who were involved in a peace camp that basically exposed the use of the airport. The government was trying to cover up and minimalize everything that was going on at the airport, everybody saying that, you know, there’s nothing secretive or furtive going on at the airport. It was denied at the highest level in this country. And then some people set up a peace camp and started, you know, showing photographs of what was going on, giving figures, registration numbers of aircraft. And the state wasn’t particularly happy with that. Following a few actions, including the disarmament actions by Mary Kelly and the Catholic Workers, a high court injunction was sought to evict everyone in the peace camp and to prevent us from entering the grounds of the airport, where we had been monitoring before. It has had very little effect, because we just got a telescope, and we do it from, you know, a mile away.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the position of the Irish government on Iraq?

TIM HOURIGAN: Their government — the Irish government’s position kept changing. I mean, they denied everything until the peace camp exposed what was going on, that we had no involvement. They tried — at one stage, we — there was a demonstration that actually saw troops in desert uniform coming through the airport, and the official government position was that these were — that they were returning from bases in Germany to go home to the U.S., even though they were in desert uniforms. So they denied — they tried to deny that they were actually going to the war zone. Later, they admitted that the troops were coming through, but tried to pretend that the weapons were not coming through or that the troops were not armed. They kept moving this, everything else. It depends who our Taoiseach is talking to, the head of the government, because on one hand, he tries to say that we’re not participating in the war, even though we’re giving much more assistance than we could do by sending our tiny army to participate in it itself, but on the other hand, you know, when he puts George Bush and all the rest of us, he’ll say, you know, he won’t apologize for helping to oust the likes of Saddam. So it’s just —they waffle and try to deny as much as they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think most people in Ireland know what’s happening at Shannon Airport now?

TIM HOURIGAN: They didn’t before, but they certainly do now. They know that it has been used, but they — there’s still more that’s being covered up like the renditions you referred to. The jet involved in that, I have seen it at Shannon Airport and we have logged it a few times. And it’s never been inspected at Shannon Airport. None of the military flights at Shannon Airport have been inspected. The particular jet has been — has come through Shannon last year, the year before, going from the Middle East to the States. It’s never been inspected. We have lodged complaints with the police, who are known as the Garda Siochana in this country, and they have never inspected that. So there’s still a lot more we don’t know, like are people being brought through in chains off to Guantanamo Bay. You know, we know there’s troops coming through. That’s not even disputed anymore, but what’s on the military cargo flights, what type of weapons are being brought, what type of explosives, and are people being brought through for torture? That’s still being covered up by the authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Hourigan of the Mid-West Alliance Against Military Aggression, speaking in Dublin last month.

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