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(en) Ireland, Mass anti-war trespass at Shannon Airport in Ireland

From "Andrew" <andy@dojo.tao.ca>
Date Mon, 14 Oct 2002 08:32:12 -0400 (EDT)


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Saturday (12th October, 2002) saw the largest 
anti-war demonstration to date at Shannon 
airport. As the demonstration ended a 50m 
section of the perimeter fence was torn down and 
up to 150 people entered the airfield perimeter.

Pic: Protesters march under airplane tail
[pictures can be viewed at the online
version of this which is at
http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2002/shannonOCT.html

This demonstration was the first Shannon 
demonstration to be organised by the 'Irish Anti 
War Movement'. The IWAM has been under pressure 
for some time to have at least one demonstration 
at Shannon. This is where US war planes land on 
a daily basis to refuel or even to use this 
civilian airport as a training base. Since the 
start of the Afghan war other smaller anti-war 
groups had organised a number of protests some 
of which also included individuals scaling the 
perimeter fence and being arrested.

The day got underway with coaches arriving at 
the airport gate. Although many of us thought 
there was to be a mass meeting at the gate to 
discuss tactics for the day when activists began 
to get the meeting together the stewards with 
the megaphones announced that we were going to 
start marching to the terminal. So the meeting 
never happened which was unfortunate as on 
previous demonstrations such meetings have been 
used to allow people to choose what sort of 
tactics they want to take part in. This resulted 
in a little bad feeling afterwards both from 
those who wanted to direct action to happen (and 
would have liked a chance to organise it 
properly) but also from those who did not (who 
wanted to argue against it or at least that 
there should be a clear division between the two 
groups).

Pic: Marching to the terminal

As usual the number who took part in the 
demonstration is disputed. It's probably safe to 
say it was somewhere above 300 people with some 
IWAM organisers claiming 500 and a Socialist 
Party member on Indymedia claiming 600-700. 
There were five IWAM coaches from Dublin (3), 
Cork and Galway as well as a large number of 
people making their own way there.

Pic: You count them, all of the march on the way 
to the terminal building

As we marched up the approach road a Gardai van 
with a video camera on its roof was observed 
filming the demonstration from a roadside car 
park. So some of the demonstrators stood in 
front of it and raised their placards in front 
of the camera to make sure the anti war message 
of the demonstration was recorded rather than 
the identities of those taking part. Outside the 
terminal a second Gardai with a hand held 
digital camera was also taking photos of the 
protesters.

Pic: Gardai spy van and counter surveillance

On reaching the airport buildings there was a 
token effort to march into the terminal, easily 
blocked by the 60 or so Gardai in front of and 
around the doors. There was a stand off there 
for a while as the (SWP*) stewards tried to get 
people to move on so we could 'listen to the 
speeches'. Apparently this was very important to 
'explain why we were there'. After a while they 
got everyone to sit down instead and so we got 
to listen to many speeches quite similar to the 
ones we had heard on other anti-war 
demonstrations. There was one exception when an 
Iraqi women spoke about her feelings about the 
war but otherwise even the speaker line up was 
almost remarkably similar to the last anti-war 
demonstration in Dublin, all of two weeks ago.

Pic: Cops and placards at the door of the 
terminal building

The high point of this period was when it was 
discovered the assembled forces of law and order 
were refusing to allow a six-year-old into the 
terminal to use the toilet! As there were a 
couple of Irish TD's present and an MEP it was 
decided that they would try and enter the 
terminal.

This resulted in a pretty amusing stand off at 
the entrance doors. Sixty odd Gardai blocked 
their way. Requests to talk to the senior 
officer present were met with silence until an 
activist at the side of the crowd pointed out 
that he appeared to be hiding in a corner! This 
brought him forth for a while but he seemed 
unable to offer any explanation for his actions 
in denying the TD's access to the terminal and 
soon stopped talking all together. All together 
the Gardai were very defensive their words and 
postures often trying to make it clear that they 
were 'just following orders'!

Pic: Two more views at the door of the terminal 
building

After this it was suggested that we enact a 'die 
in' on the road in front of the terminal, a 
couple of hundred people took part in this. Then 
everyone was told to spread out in a big circle 
around the front of the terminal. While all this 
was going on some of those who had travelled to 
Shannon because they thought some direct action 
was the purpose of the protest were having a 
small meeting of their own. They decided that as 
we marched out of the airport they would go over 
to the perimeter fence and start to shake it.

Pic: Die in by the terminal building

Some two and a half-hours after the 
demonstration had started we were told that as 
the buses were leaving soon it was time to march 
back down to the airport entrance. On the way 
back, just after we cleared the buildings about 
a dozen people left the head of the march and 
crossed to the perimeter fence. When they 
started to shake it though the fencing rapidly 
fell away from the supports and within seconds a 
50m section was down. The Gardai grabbed one 
activist standing near the fence but as they did 
so another jumped through the fence and entered 
the airfield.

After a stunned few seconds she was followed by 
half a dozen more and then seconds later another 
20 or 30. As the Gardai started to chase those 
already on the airfield more and more people 
stated to stream over the fence until about half 
the protesters had crossed the fence and the 
other half were watching from just behind it.

Pic: Protesters celebrate getting into the 
airfield

Inside the thirty or so protesters at the front 
made it to a point near the tarmac where a UPS 
plane was parked. There was a quick discussion 
as to whether to move on to the runway itself 
but it was decided for safety reasons not to do 
so. Instead everyone sat down on the grass and 
started to chat and sing.

As more Gardai arrived they initially 
concentrated on stopping this group moving any 
further into the airfield by standing in front 
of us (but of course we had already decided to 
stay where we were). Meanwhile other Gardai, 
some with dogs, concentrated on intimidating 
those between us and the fence into leaving the 
airfield. A third group of Gardai physically 
pushed a group of fifteen or so who had linked 
arms back to the fence and a couple of horse 
back cops also turned up. (As the Gardai only 
have two such horses I presume they had 
travelled from Dublin).

Pic: Gardai dogs and protesters

With most of the protesters back behind the 
fence the Gardai then concentrated on the thirty 
or forty sitting on the grass. The grabbed a 
number of people from this group and threw them 
into vans, possibly concentrating on those they 
thought were organisers. If they hoped this 
would intimidate the others it failed to work, 
who said they would only leave if those arrested 
were released.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence a group 
of a dozen or so blocked the airport road, 
bringing traffic to a halt. They hoped to put 
additional pressure on the Gardai to release the 
prisoners. Inside the airfield two huge fire 
engines were brought up and the Gardai moved 
back a little. They clearly intended to create 
the impression they were going to use them as 
water cannon but when the activists still failed 
to move they moved back in again.

At this stage the vans carrying the prisoners 
were driven off and the activists on the grass 
began to discuss whether or not to leave, our 
point being made, and head to the police station 
to support those arrested. Around ten people had 
been arrested. After a brief discussion it was 
decided to do so.

Pic: Protesters sitting on the grass and getting 
to know each other

After some negotiation it was agreed that the 
coaches would stop briefly at the police 
station. There over a dozen Gardai blocked the 
entrance and refused to allow even a single 
activist to enter it to find out what was going 
on. They also refused to say under what law they 
were doing this although it was implied this was 
because the lone activist might overpower them 
all and release the prisoners!

But within minutes of us arriving they did start 
to release those arrested. They hadn't been 
charged but were told a file was being sent to 
the DPP and that charges might arise from this. 
Obviously someone above the level of the local 
Gardai would have to make the decision as to 
whether a messy trial that would highlight the 
use of Shannon as a refuelling stop for foreign 
war planes was the best strategy for the state 
to follow. With the Nice referendum being next 
weekend we can safely assume it will be at least 
a week before anything more is heard!

On the buses back to Dublin a debate was 
organised over events on the day. This was 
probably useful on a therapeutic level to clear 
the bad feeling that resulted in the failure to 
debate tactics in advance. But it also revealed 
some pretty deep division over what direct 
action was and how the tacking of such actions 
could be decided. If the movement as a whole is 
to grow (and here I include both those involved 
in the IWAM and those who choose to remain 
outside it) then these questions need to be 
resolved, at least on the level of agreeing to 
differ.

For my part I think the mass trespass at the end 
of the day turned what would otherwise would 
have been a routine demo with an added long 
coach trip into a success. For the first time 
there was a trespass at Shannon that involved 
dozens of people rather then simply a couple of 
brave souls making martyrs out of themselves. It 
also revealed just how vulnerable the airport if 
to such tactics, there are miles of perimeter 
fence, it would take hundreds if not thousands 
of police to protect it from a large 
demonstration.

The question of tactics is really a question of 
how you that think you can stop refuelling at 
Shannon. Some, including many of the far-left 
parties, seem to think it is just a question of 
mobilising a large number of people to march up 
and down and listen to speeches. Others, 
including the anarchists, argue that while this 
is also needed the government will continue to 
ignore such mobilisations because of the depth 
of its alliance with imperialism. In that 
context what is needed is larger and larger 
numbers of people willing to engage in mass 
direct action against the war.

Saturday's demonstration revealed that even a 
small number of people taking direct action can 
shut the airport. What is needed is to build 
towards getting thousands to Shannon to not only 
carry out a mass trespass on the airfield but 
also to physically dismantle any war plane we 
catch on the ground there. A similar movement 
across Europe could deny the use of airbases 
across the continent and have a very real impact 
of the ability of the US and Britain to carry 
out their war against the people of Iraq.

Joe Black

* - I say Socialist Workers Party stewards here 
because at that point and at the start the only 
people I saw with megaphones telling others what 
to do were members of the SWP. Other members of 
the IWAM reacted to a previous report where I 
described the IWAM as 'SWP dominated' with 
annoyance. However if you are going to allow the 
SWP to apparently run events on the day (an SWP 
member also chaired everything) you have got to 
expect people to draw conclusions from this!

[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity 
Movement members of an event they took part in 
or attended, these reports are posted to the 
Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures 
are ultra compressed a week or so after they are 
uploaded to this site to save space on the 
server.

For picture and links see the online version of 
this article at 
http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2002/shannonOCT.html

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