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(en) Ireland, Direct action against war returns to Shannon - Blockade of Shannon warport Dec 6 2003

From Andrew <andy@dojo.tao.ca>
Date Tue, 9 Dec 2003 13:22:35 +0100 (CET)

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This is a report of a direct action against the use of an Irish airport to refule US military planes
that happened this Saturday in Ireland. There have been many protests at this airport including
airfield invasions and damaging planes with hammers. See http://struggle.ws/wsm/
shannnon.html for details of these. The IAWM referred to below is the 'mainstream' anti war
group dominated by trotskyists. GNAW is a libertarian network focused on direct action at Shannon.
December 6th saw the largest anti-war demonstration at Shannon airport since April of last year.
Some 400 people took part in what the Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM) had advertised as a
blockade of the airport. The blockade was supported by the Grassroots Network Against War.
Recently released figures reveal 115,000 US troops passed through Shannon on the way to Iraq
last year, confirming its central role in the US military supply chain.

I traveled down on the GNAW organized Dublin bus. We had made some elaborate plans for what
we wanted to do but it turned out these were mostly not possible due to circumstances on the
day. There was also one IAWM bus from Dublin and one bus organised by the UCD students
unions. Buses also came from Galway and Cork.

The IAWM committee had been badly split in advance of the protest. One committee meeting
had the tendency to overturn the decisions of the previous committee meeting as the Trotskyists
sought to prevent any effective action being taken. These problems carried on into the day itself
with one committee member Dominic Carroll reporting on indymedia that "Stewards on the
IAWM bus from Dublin decided on the tactic for the day (disregarding previous decisions) and
communicated what they considered a binding decision to buses from Cork and Galway. Open
discussion at the assembly point prior to the protest was disallowed. As the event unfolded,
decisions were woefully communicated and participants treated as no-line bit-part actors. The
IAWM "leadership" (accompanied – willingly and in some cases unwillingly – by the majority of
the stewards) attempted a de facto termination of the protest by leaving at about 5pm (a
decision not communicated to most of those participating in the demo). The majority of the
protestors began leaving Shannon at around 6.15pm onwards." In isolation this seems quite
negative but in fact this split represented a major step forward from the position of March 1st
and before when the IAWM opposed any form of direct action at Shannon.

Outside of Shannon we arrived at the by now standard Gardai checkpoint. The police had a new
idea for the days harassment. This time they confiscated banner and flag poles and the sticks off
placards. They also took plastic bottles of poster paint and a few pieces of waven pipe. We were
told this was being done under the firearms act! On the Cork bus the Gardai had stolen about
1000 'release Fintan Lane' posters. All in all clearly an exercise designed to make us feel

On the Grassroots bus we heard that it had been announced on the IAWM Dublin bus that they
would only try and blockade one of the two roads into the airport! This seemed a little pointless
so that on our bus we decided if all else failed we would try and blockade the second road. We
had also decided that when we arrived we would get out of the bus and the Lidl carpark (1 on
map) as soon as possible. We hoped we might manage to move off before the Gardai realized
what was happening and reach the roundabout onto the second of the two roads (7 on map).

We formed up quickly (complete with flag poles and banner poles that the Gardai had failed to
find at their checkpoint) and set off up the road. We had been joined by some GNAW people
from the other buses but more were around the front of Lidl with the IAWM and so didn't find us
until later.

Pic: GNAW sets off (you can see the pictures and a map of the route taken at http://struggle.ws/

Approaching the first roundabout (2) we saw that the were a lot of cops waiting for us, including
about 24 riot police. This and a bit of careless map reading resulted in us charging off the road
and into the forest/scrub to the left (3). A small group did however get past the Gardai at the
roundabout and into the fields across the road before being surrounded. The one arrest on the
day happened here. The blue line on the map roughly shows the main GNAW route on the day).
It turned out the wood we had charged into also had drainage ditches dug through it, the larger
ones of these were too big too easily cross and by the time we had managed to do this the IAWM
march had set off down the road we emerged onto.

Pic: Police at 1st roundabout (3)

There were huge numbers of police present, they probably outnumbered the demonstrators.
They had obviously decided to allow us to block off the road leading from 2 to 6 and
concentrated on stopping us getting to the road from 7 to the industrial estate down which all
the airport traffic was diverted. For most of the length these two roughly parallel roads are
separated by thick scrub and/or multiple fences. But at 4 there appeared to be a track through
the woods so as we got there we made a run for this. The police ran to close this gap but around
a dozen people made it into the woods before running into a fence and so being caught up with
and taken out again.

Pic: Into the woods with cops in pursuit

The road was barricaded by the police at 5 to stop us entering the airport. This was the point at
which we expected to be stopped as there is a wide ditch/river running down to the Shannon
which provides a handy defence line for them. Individual affinity groups went back up the road
and attempted to find gaps in the police line. In a couple of cases they got most of the way to
the second road before being surrounded and turned back. In at least one case people got all
the way through and started to block the road with traffic cones etc before Gardai vans arrived
and forced them back.

Pic: Gap in the hedge and one of the breakthroughs returning

The IAWM had decided there was no point staying in the protest pen at 5 and headed back up
the road. A couple of them came over to us and explained that they were heading back up to 2
to try and reach the roundabout at 7 and so block that second road. So we moved to the
roundabout at 6 to prevent the roads there being re-opened if the IAWM were to succeed at 2.
There was a lot of standing around here until the Gardai made an attempt to drive a van through
us. People decided to respond to this provocation by refusing to let the van pass and moved in
front of us. The Gardai moved in to push us out of the way but failed to do so and eventually
backed the van out again.

Meanwhile traffic started to come down the road (from what I gathered later some in the IAWM
had started a sit down on the other road). We moved to block the three exists off the
roundabout that this traffic was trying to use. The riot police moved in with the rest of the
Gardai to try and move us but we did manage to stop about half of that cars getting through.
After a short while the traffic stopped coming (presumably because the IAWM sit down had been
cleared). We heard from an IAWM steward there that they were heading home.

Gardai blockade at (5) and (6)

We decided to head up towards the roundabout at 2 with the intention of moving towards 7 and
see if the Gardai blocked off the main road as a result. It was now getting dark and a police
helicopter with a spotlight was over us.

A pedestrian fly over bridge spanned the road, its approximate location is at 8 in the map. As
usual with such bridges there was a long access ramp for wheelchairs, buggys and bikes and a
short stairs. Two Gardai were at the bottom of the ramp and two more at the top to prevent us
crossing over.

Pic: They didn't get all the posters

In a keystone cops movement two people vaulted over the railing at the bottom of the ramp
behind the Gardai guarding it and started towards the top. The two Gardai at the bottom moved
after them and the two Gardai at the top came down the ramp to intercept them. This of course
left no one guarding the much shorter staircase to the top and half a dozen or more ran over,
climbed up this and crossed the bridge, reaching the other road. More Gardai ran in at our end
to prevent more joining them. One activist was pushed off the railings by one Gardai so that his
head collided with another Guard behind him. This second cop started to scream that he had
been assaulted leading to a long stand off as other activists surrounded them to prevent his
arrest. Eventually the Gardai backed off after getting the activists name.
We waited around for a while until the half dozen activists who had made it over the bridge
returned. I believe they had reached the other side and started to block the road before being
surrounded and herded back onto the bridge.

We then proceeded to head straight up the road to the roundabout at 2. As we got near this we
observed that there were dozens of Gardai waiting for us there. We thought they might intend to
try and pick people out of the crowd so we formed long lines with our arms linked across the
road about 3 or 4 rows deep. We marched up to within about 20m of the Gardai line which had
been re-enforced with a line of riot police. We stopped, recovered our breath and then with arms
still linked ran up to and into the line of locked riot shields. This pushed the police line back a
little opening up enough of a gap for us to squeeze through as a block to the left (the road
towards Lidl and out bus).

Pics: Pushing back the riot police

In all probability the police line was just there to stop us trying to block the whole roundabout.
After we had pushed through we stood facing the riot police for a few minutes and some people
posed for their pictures in front of the interlocked shields. Then we moved off, more or less as a
bloc ignoring the apparent provocation of an unguarded police van by the side of the road. Back
at the Lidl carpark we mixed in with the shoppers before heading for our bus, and Dublin.
Pic: Posing for a snap, (these guys are not as intimidating as they want to be!)

On the bus back people generally felt that given the huge numbers of police and our relatively
low numbers the day had gone all right from out point of view. A prolonged blockade was not
possible in the circumstances but we had managed to significantly disrupt traffic into the airport
at times and our very presence had forced the closure of the main road and the deployment of
hundreds of police.

We had suffered only one arrest on the day (he was released in time for the bus) as well as the
very odd arrest of the 'Black Pope' near the airport in the early morning. No details are known at
this point about the arrest except that he had phoned the legal team to say he was trapped in
his car by a large group of secret police (Special Branch) and that they were breaking a window
to get him out. That evening he was charged with a motoring offence in Tullow court and
released on 5 Euro bail. This would seem to underline that his arrest was simply the way of the
Gardai 'removing' the main public organizer of the IAWM blockade.

The other positive feature was that the IAWM section had attempted a serious blockade, at least
for a time. This confirms that the pro 'direct action' forces in the IAWM have managed to
overcome in part the conservatism of the trotskyist leadership of it. On Saturday, the trots may
have tried to avoid the IAWM moving beyond a token blockade (and they made up most of the
IAWM stewards) but on the day they were forced to join in the IAWM sitdown blockade in order
to retain any credibility. Ironically on the very road that they had previously told the Cork and
Galway buses that the 'IAWM' had decided not to block!

This Shannon demonstration shows two things. First that the core of the Irish anti war
movements has recovered in part from the post-March crash in numbers. And secondly that
right across the board it is willing to adopt more militant tactics and is in a better position to
implement them.

On Saturday the sheer level of policing (it was estimated 700 were present) prevented us from
doing anything very effective. But our attempts to do so and the fact that we refused to be
intimidated by the huge police mobilization left most people with a positive feeling from the
day. The sort of feeling that is essential if we are to build larger actions in the future. This was
something very different from the April 12th IAWM demonstration when led by a load of
muppets chanting 'one solution, revolution' the march obediently funneled itself into a protest
pen set back from the terminal and surrounded by Gardai.

On Saturday most people, including most of the IAWM who had turned up did so with the
intention of taking part in a blockade. Dublin GNAW was a good deal better organized then it
had been for many of the previous demonstratioshannonAPR.htmlns and communications with
those sections of the IAWM who want to take action against the war have been improved. We
may have been out numbered but despite this we still made a few good attempts at the blockade
and people were not intimidated by the huge police presence.
Saturday provides ground to build for into the future. For the moment the numbers prepared to
protest remain low but the proportion willing to take action has grown greatly. A re-alignment is
happening in the anti-war movements on this basis. With the nature of the occupation of Iraq
becoming clearer the possibility is there not just for a recovery in the number of protesters but
also for far more being willing to take the sort of militant action that can end Irelands support
for the war effort.

Joe Black

Useful links (see http://struggle.ws/wsm/news/2003/shannonDEC.html)
More on protests at Shannon
Video of this protest
More pictures (set 1) (set 2) (set 3) (set 4) (set 2)
Report and pictures from police search of Galway bus
Dominics balance sheet of the day
Maratists report

Pic: Still trying to look hard!

[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]

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