Jury Frees Anti-War Saboteurs


Five peace activists have been acquitted of all charges in relation to their disarming of a US navy plane at Shannon airport in February 2003. The five, calling themselves the Pitstop Ploughshares, used axes and lump hammers to inflict over $2.5m worth of damage in what they described as a “non-violent ploughshares action”. In June they received a unanimous acquittal by using Section 6 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991 which allows for a “lawful excuse” where the damage is caused “in order to protect another or property belonging to another.” They say they were acting in defence of civilian life in Iraq, the local infrastructure, the lives of US soldiers and of Irish people who may become targets of a terrorist attack as a result of Irish complicity in the war.

Two previous trials were aborted due to incompetent judges, one of whom failed to mention his close ties to G W Bush. Their acquittal comes as a blow to the Irish government’s complicity in the US led war on Iraq and provides an inspiration to others who wish to act against imperialist forces using Ireland’s airports.

Throughout their three trials anti-war activists came from across the globe to support them and vigils were held outside the court each day. US veteran of combat in Iraq Jimmy Massey; Denis Halliday, an Irishman who had been Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and head of the “Oil for Food” programme and Martin Sheen, who plays the US president in TV’s West Wing all visited Ireland to show their support for the group.

Ciaran O’Reilly, a member of the group, has been involved in similar actions around the globe, having spent over 18 months in a US prison for disarming a B52 bomber during the first gulf war. He emphasises that it was a “non-violent direct action” and strongly denies claims that they overpowered a garda to access the plane. The court upheld their claims that the garda had been asleep and the group invited him to join their action and had helped calm his worries that he would lose his job.
Because of the religious convictions of the group they set up a shrine outside the hangar with images of dead Iraqi children, video evidence of US abuse in Iraq and copies of the bible and Koran. “Pitstop of Death” was painted across the side of the hangar, Ciaran says this was done to honour the dead and name the airport for what it is.

Some members of the group have now left the country to continue their lives while others intend to stay and continue to push for the end of the US military use of Shannon through mass non-violent direct action. The army, along with over 40 garda, have been recently deployed to Shannon following remarks from Ciaran O Reilly calling on the government to enforce our “neutrality” and suggesting that if they don’t then he will call on people to shut the airport down themselves.

The ploughshares action shows the power that people have to make a difference when they choose to act. A recent action in which nine people occupied and sabotaged the offices of the Derry-based weapons manufacturer Raytheon shows that the spirit of direct action against militarism continues to grow.

From Workers Solidarity 93, Sept/Oct 2006

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