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(en) Ireland, Shannon - at the end of a long road

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 15 Apr 2003 15:39:31 +0200 (CEST)


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> Pictures at: http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2003/shannonAPR.html
Although for many it must have seemed that
the US/Iraq war was almost over Saturday
12th April saw another anti-war
demonstration at Shannon airport in Ireland.
The airport has been used to re-fuel hundreds
of US war planes en route to the Gulf.
According to Phoenix magazine "many flights
have been carrying substantial quantities of
depleted uranium (DU) warheads".

This protest was organised by the 'Irish Anti
War Movement' which despite the name is
not an umbrella group for all anti-war groups
in Ireland. The IAWM opposes direct action
at Shannon; its chairman Richard
Boyd-Barrett has used his access to the
media to attack anti-war groups who have
carried out such actions. The IAWM's
strength is in organising large marches and
similar demonstrations. The largest of these
saw around 100,000 take part in Feb 15th in
Dublin but since that date number have
fallen off considerably. The Shannon
demonstration was only attended by about
470 people, many of these being from the
political parties that make up the IAWM.

Libertarian attendance at the demonstration
was the smallest of any Shannon
demonstration since December 2001. There
were three anarchist flags, the Cork Peace
Alliance banner and perhaps 20 or so
activists from Grassroots Network Against
War (GNAW). This can partly be explained
by the number of libertarian activists
arrested at previous protests at the airport
and the subsequent banning of some of these
from Shannon. But this is only part of the
story, as importantly was a feeling that the
demonstration was pointless as nothing was
likely to happen beyond the usual march to
the terminal and speeches from the same old
cabal of minor political leaders. Note that
not all of us felt this way (which is why 20
were there).

Riot and mounted gardai at Shannon airport
Pic: Riot and mounted gardai with the march
in the background

The level of Gardai harassment had if
anything intensified since previous protests.
One of us actually counted 298 individual
Gardai on duty, at least 36 of whom were
wearing riot gear. This huge presence would
have made any effective action beyond a
blockade (and there was no traffic) very
limited indeed. As well as the riot cops there
were also dog and mounted units, a helicopter
over head and at least three water cannon on
duty. The 200 or so army personnel also
meant to be guarding the airport were
nowhere to be seen, and its probably the case
that there were even more Gardai out of sight
waiting to be deployed when they were
needed.

Both individual cars and buses travelling to
the protest were stopped at Gardai
roadblocks and searched. It's hard to see any
point to this beyond straightforward
harassment as a can of spray paint is about
the most exciting thing they ever could have
found en route to any of the demonstrations.
The point was rubbed home on arrival in the
carpark when a secret police (Special Branch)
man was seen sending two uniformed cops
over to check the driving license of one
GNAW activist. They seemed to be mostly
interested in checking if the address on the
license was still his home address. Given the
secret police raids on the homes of other
people involved in GNAW earlier in the year
this was obviously intended to be
intimidating as was the personal escort
provided by a couple of secret police men for
that individual throughout the day.

Smiling Gardai
Pic: Happy Gardai thinking of the overtime

Now an overwhelming percentage of the
population actually agrees with the anti-war
movements and opposes refuelling at
Shannon - this has been shown in several
polls. So what we have is not only the
government refusing to follow the will of the
majority, it is actually spending millions
harassing and intimidating those who dare to
continue to protest. These Gardai who so
eagerly check the boots of cars for spray paint
are the same ones who have refused to check
the huge military planes landing under their
noises. Well no surprise there for an
anarchists, what is surprising is that the
liberal and left anti-war movements seem to
be simply accepting this.

Saturday was another example of this
acceptance. On their way up the SWP
contingent was nosily chanting 'One solution,
revolution', setting off flares (on quiet bits of
the road) and at times breaking into a run.
On arrival at the terminal along with
everyone else they obediently marched into a
protest pen. This pen, quite a bit back from
the terminal, had obviously been pre-agreed
with the organisers as the sound equipment
was set up there when we arrived. This form
of corralling protest is very common in the
US but new in Ireland, yet outside of a few
making sheep noises no protest was made as
we were herded in.

SWP on the run at Shannon
Pic: Some SWP members have been
complaining that I never include photos of
them. Here they are looking dynamic.

The 'important' bit of the day followed. The
speeches from our political leaders! And yet
again Richard Boyd Barrett, Kieran Allen,
Joe Higgins and Patricia McKenna got up to
give us a speech about how outraged they
were about the war. At least Sinn Fein have
the decency to occasionally rotate who is
doing the speaking amongst their TD's, not
worth a lot though from the party happy to
shake Bush's hand as the bombs rained down
on Iraq. To underline the impotency of it all,
over the heads of the crowd we could see an
enormous military charted cargo plane taxing
for take off. Not one of the speakers even
pointed it out. To add a bit of interest the
organisers had broken up the speeches with
songs after every couple.

I wandered over to the barrier to chat to
another 'direct action' activist. Amusingly the
top cop on spotting us sent four more cops
down the inside of the barrier to stand either
side of us. He must have been worried that
we were going to do a solo run across the
barrier and through the line of uniformed
Gardai and two lines of riot police between us
and the terminal! Behind us someone started
spraying painting something about Fianna
Fail and the PD's on the footpath and a
couple of Gardai were sent over to take the
spray can off them. A row ensued in which it
emerged that it may not be an offence to
spray roads or footpaths after all, the cops
kept the can but no one got arrested.

Military charter takes off from Shannon
Pic: The huge plane in the background is an
Atlas cargo charter used by the US military
to transport supplies

We left soon after this and walked back down
along the enormous line of Gardai that
stretched from the terminal to the gate. As
four of us walked down we were followed by a
Gardai community relations van which we
had earlier noticed ferrying the secret police
types around. It stayed about 50m back
though so we couldn't see the passengers.
There were two moments of light relief. One
cops mobile phone went off and we were
amused that his ring tone of choice was the
theme tune of the 'Itchy and Scratchy Show'
from the Simpson's. We thought of asking
him what he made of Chief Wigam but
thought the better of it. Right at the end
there was a large clump of cops across the
footpath. As we approached they all turned to
us and watched as we passed through them.
One spoke up and said 'thanks for the
overtime', rubbing his thumb across his
fingers in the familiar gesture for cash. I
think he meant it as well!

It seems quite likely that, at least for now,
that will be the end of the IAWM. So the
movement that could mobilise 100,000 ends
up leading 467 (I counted) into a protest pen
at Shannon as in the background military
flights taxi for take off. The speakers told us
of course that this was 'not the end'.

At this stage it looks like the government
won the battle of Shannon, at least for now.
Up to now Irish aid to US wars has been a
dirty little secret. During the Afghan war the
government was trying to deny there was any
military materials or men bound for that war
coming through Shannon. The US Marines in
desert camouflage spotted during the
December 15 2001 protest we were told were
coming back for Christmas from West
German bases, as we all know these are
surround by extensive deserts. Through the
dedicated work of the anti-war plane spotters
and the Dubsky court case the reality was
blown wide open for the Iraq war. We knew
tens of thousands of troops were pouring
through Shannon.

Water Cannon at Shannon, Ireland
Pic: Water cannon crewed by SIPTU
members at Shannon

But getting this out in the open was never
more then a first step. The point was to stop
it. And here is where the government's
victory lies. If we had failed to mobilise
anyone because, for instance, the media
refused to cover the story then there would be
hope for the future. But the movements
managed the February 15th march when some
100,000 marched through the streets of
Dublin, This was in the context of a series of
militant direct actions at the airport which
saw over a hundred trespassing and three
separate attacks on military planes.

On February 16th the state must have been
worried. Its worst nightmare of massive
mobilisations against refuelling had
happened. Polls where showing an
overwhelming majority opposed the war. A
small minority had already decided to defy
the law and take direct action at the airport
to stop refuelling.

But Bertie and co kept their nerve. They
gambled that they could split the movement
by attacking the direct action wing as
'violent' and demanding that the respectable
wing distance themselves from it. The Green
Party had already revealed it was vulnerable
to this sort of pressure when Trevor Sergeant
had gone on air to attack Mary Kelly after
she had disarmed a US Navy jet. The secret
police were presumably telling McDowell
that they reckoned that even those
trotskyists whom he so hated were unlikely to
actually do anything.

Peace protester at Shannon

War without end
Pic: Peace flags

They gambled and won. For the most part the
anti-war movements reacted to the
government ignoring the huge Feb 15 march
and the fine speeches by organising more
marches and more speeches. When a small
minority in Grassroots Network Against War
took the only logical route and called for
mass civil disobedience at Shannon things
went like a dream for the government. They
played the violence card and won big time,
not only did the NGO's and respectable
parties queue up with the bishops to
denounce the planned 'violence' so too did
McDowells trotskyists. Gleeful laughs must
have echoed around government buildings on
the last day of February when the news came
through that Sinn Fein was telling people to
stay away from Shannon the next day for fear
of violence.

All that was left for them was the show of
force that awaited us on March 1st. Lines of
riot police and rolls of razor wire were a show
not for the 300 who turned up to take part in
the action, nor even for the 800 or so who
marched past for the speeches at the
terminal. It was for the 100,000 who marched
in Dublin. On the one hand 'there is no
smoke without fire' - a naked show of state
preparation for violence simply adds to the
idea that there is violence planned. But on
the other it showed just what the state had
waiting in the wings for those who might feel
frustrated and inclined to act.

Mounted police In ireland
Pic: A repressive line up

Personally after March 1st I began to feel
that we had lost. The state had called our
bluff. The IAWM had shown it was unwilling
to take even the mildest form of direct action
- what a fuss about a fence. And it was clear
that the state was now mobilising at a level
that GNAW could not hope to counteract in
the short term. There were problems with
GNAW which will be discussed in the period
to come but our chief problem was that we
were too few, too late and on our own were
not capable of convincing and organising the
numbers required.

In advance of the war there was a lot of 'look
at how big the demonstrations are before the
war' talk that was intended to imply that the
outbreak of war would make them bigger. I
reckoned this was unlikely. The
demonstrations before the 1991 Gulf War in
the US were bigger then those during it.
Before the First World War millions
demonstrated, it took three years of
horrendous bloodshed before opposition once
more reached the pre-war peak. This isn't
surprising, when war breaks out all those who
opposed it because they reckoned it was bad
for the national interest will end up backing
'our troops'. As it is many of the 100,000 who
marched on F15 will wonder why they
bothered. They marched, the government
ignored them and that was that. The (wrong)
lesson that manyt may take is that marching
is a waste of time.

Speech at Shannon
Pic: The 'dear leader' rallies the troops

The disruption that could be caused by
demonstrations was another possibility even
if it was clear that the IAWM was not going
to organise it. I hoped, and argued with other
people within GNAW, that the revolutionary
groups might finally act and at least block
roads on the day itself. In the end that was
another humiliation as we were marched up
to block the road at the British embassy to
the familiar chants of 'One solution,
revolution' only to discover that it had
already been arranged to have the Gardai
divert the traffic. Later in the week a
blockade of the Dail would turn out to have
been arranged to end a few minutes before
the TD's were actually due to leave.

We could have called the governments bluff.
All we had to do was show them that allowing
refuelling to continue was going to meet with
actual resistance (rather then something
designed to look like resistance). Out of the
initial arrests at Shannon last year there were
no charges - obviously the state hoped the
issue was just going to go away. They were
then willing to arrest and process ten or so at
a time, probably aware that this was a good
percentage of those who had declared a
willingness to act. But could they have
survived arresting 100's or even 1000's in
order to allow refuelling to continue. We have
not only let a real opportunity slip through
our fingers, the government has also managed
to bring refuelling into the public sphere. It is
perhaps fitting that the last GNAW action at
Shannon to date was based on finally burying
the well rotten corpse of Irish neutrality.

Joe Black

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