Report on August 2002 anti-war protest at Shannon airport

A report on the first of the Grassroots Gathering direct action style protests against the re-fueling of US War planes at Shannon airport.

 Shannon demonstration against refuelling of US war planes

Saturday August 17th saw another protest at Shannon Airport against the continued use of this civilian airport to refuel US warplanes. According to Ireland on Sunday (Aug 18th) between September 2001 and July 2002 a total of 535 US warplanes have refuelled at the airport.

Shannon airport anti war protest
Pic: Marching to the terminal

A total of about 70 people turned up for the protest but the vast majority of us were prevented getting into the area of the airport by the police. They had set up a checkpoint at the airport gates and were stopping any cars they suspected contained protesters. Once stopped they were also carrying out petty harassment of the drivers by demanding to inspect insurance disks and driving licenses. A couple of drivers who happened not to have their license with them were told to report to their local Gardai station within the next ten days with their license.

When our driver asked why we were not being let into the airport he was told "we are not letting you in, it's as simple as that". Our traditional and ironic complaint that "I thought this was a free county" was met with the Gardai reply "I never said it was a free county"! The two Gardai also attempted to get the names of the passengers but we refused to give them.

Cops stops cars at Shannon airport anti war protest
Pic: Gardai stopping cars entering the airport

For the next 30 minutes or so we mounted a protest at the gate to give a chance for other protesters to arrive. We also heard that a C-130 Hercules had been seen landing at the airport as the first protesters arrived. Protesters who had managed to get through the police cordon reported that it was parked for a short time by the cargo area but that it took off soon after landing, too soon they believe for it to have been re-fuelled. If this was because of the protest then this was a very, very small but positive blow against the US war build up.

Meanwhile at the gate we were demanding to know under what power the Gardai were refusing us access to the airport. The senior guard (a red tabbed inspector) told us that he was "concerned that there will be some sort of protest that will make the airport unsafe" and that "I have information that there was to be an effort today by this protest to damage the airport". When asked if there was a warplane currently at the airport he said he didn't know, but when asked specifically about the Hercules he admitted, "there might well be".


Gardai inspector at Irish anti war protest


Pic: The inspector explains while Aer Rianta staff photograph protesters (insert is digital camera)

Meanwhile the Aer Rianta duty manager who was observing the protest with another Aer Rianta staff member and a member of the airport police equipped with a digital camera was over heard issuing instructions regarding the Hercules by mobile phone. Inside the airport grounds where the Airport Police were also harassing protesters it appears they were simply making up byelaws to justify themselves. One protester, Tim Hourigan , reported that "Mr. Aer Rianta again told us we were violating an airport bye-law. When I asked him what byelaw he was referring to he couldn't name it, so the airport policeman with him told us it was 425. I walked over to the poster of byelaws and there is no such byelaw. There is a bye-law 4.2-5 referring to motor vehicles at the airport!"

Back at the entrance we had a quick meeting to decide what to do next. Everyone felt that we should try and move through the police lines. There was some disagreement over whether we should first promise to respect airport byelaws. Why should we ask the Gardai for permission to engage in protest?

Discussion at protest
Pic: Discussing what to do

In the end we just marched up and through the Gardai line. They made a fairly half hearted attempt to stop us and then settled down to simply walking in front and behind us as we marched up the road to the terminal. There was a sense of achievement in that we had defended our freedom to protest through taking direct action.

Breaking through police lines
Pic: Breaking through the police lines

On reaching the terminal we met a much larger concentration of Gardai, airport police and more sinisterly members of the Irish secret/political police in their ill fitting suits (aka the Special Branch). They blocked the entrance to the terminal and we sat down blocking half the road outside it. Banners were unfurled, street theatre was enacted and various speeches were made.

Marching to the airport
Pic: Marching to the airport

As well as as the 'No refuelling in our name' banner there were two other large banners on the themes of opposition to the Irish arms trade and the bombing of third world families. There were a range of placards, some of the texts were as follows "Depleted Uranium coming up""Mourn the slain children of Afghanistan""no refuelling of war planes at Shannon""Babies will die""keep Ireland neutral, no refuelling""Shannon US war port".


Bombing third world families


Shannon is US war port

Pic: Some of the banners and placards

After the speeches some of the protesters lay on the road and took turns to dedicate the protest to various people who had suffered as a result of the war. The protest then moved back down to the gate. En route, Mary Kelly, climbed the Airport perimeter fence and made her way towards the runway where she was arrested. She was released a couple of hours later.

Sit down protest at airport
Pic: Lie down protest outside terminal

Overall this was another successful Shannon protest. But it continues to be the case that most of the left and anti-war movement seems to prefer marching around Dublin then taking the bother to travel to and take action at the site where the Irish state is directly aiding the US war effort. This needs to change. With war in Iraq looming to should be possible to organise major protests at Shannon that could shut the airport for a period of time.

This would push up the economic and political costs of allowing military refuelling to take place at Shannon. The Irish government would be faced with the choice or arresting hundreds or even thousands or withdrawing permission for US war planes to land at Shannon. Either way a real example in how to oppose the war would be set that others could take up across Europe.

Behind police lines
Pic: Gardai line

With the second Nice referendum the ongoing refuelling of US warplanes demonstrates how meaningless the appendix agreed at the Seville summit on Irish neutrality is. Irish airports are being used to refuel the warplanes of the country that is involved in one war and is openly preparing for a second in Iraq. Voting No to Nice is another minor chance to oppose this increased militarisation.


Police lift protester


Ministery of funny walks

Pic: Gardai moving protester and the ministery of silly walks


Originally written for the WSM web site

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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