Irish Peace Trial Aborted

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 33, Pentecost 2005

Australian-born Ciaron O’Reilly of the Dublin Catholic Worker community often remarks wryly that while the Irish are abundantly familiar with the concept of ‘direct action’, the notion of ‘non-violent direct action’ is a bit more alien.

O’Reilly and four of his comrades — Deirdre Clancy, Damien Moran, Nuin Dunlop and Karen Fallon (the first two Irish natives, the others from the diaspora) — did their bit to address that historical ignorance when they damaged a US Navy C40A aircraft that was parked in a hangar at Shannon Airport in February 2003. Shannon, which they call the ‘Pitstop of Death’, is one of the main transit points for US troops and equipment en route to Iraq.

The ‘Pitstop Ploughshares’ were the defendants in a dramatic trial in Dublin – a trial that crashed. Their high-powered lawyers were fighting to convince a jury that the five acted in the ‘honest belief’ that they were protecting the lives and property of other people. The judge accused O’Reilly (the only one who has got a chance to testify) of trying to use the court as a political platform, and wouldn’t allow some defence witnesses and evidence to be heard by the jury. Finally, after legal argument, the judge sent the jury home — a good-enough outcome in the circumstances, though the five accused must wait to see if the State tries again later this year.

Ciaron O’Reilly, with a four-foot-long garden pickaxe pulled out of the exhibit bag and placed on his lap, had told the jury that he damaged an American plane not to ‘piss off George Bush’ but to ‘enflesh the prophesy of Isaiah by beating swords into ploughshares’. The peace activists’ trial attracted an extraordinary array of peacemakers from across Europe and the world. The Americans were the most striking contingent: Kathy Kelly from Voices in the Wilderness was here, and Kelly Dougherty from Iraq Veterans Against the War. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton came from Detroit and, from the east coast, 13 members of the Grady family (it sometimes seemed like 30), a few of whom had to scoot back to upstate New York to face new federal charges for an action at a military recruitment center — an action that a state jury has already failed to convict them on. The name ‘Berrigan’ falls frequently from their lips.

Irish anti-war activists have moved among these beautiful visitors, soaking up the passion and peace that emanates from them, considering and reconsidering their own commitments, tactics and attitudes. In a country that has only recently shaken off one sort of Catholic power, we wonder are we ready to admit another. (It came as some assurance when one defendant assured us that the Catholic Worker movement is full of Atheist Slackers!)

North and South of Ireland’s border, in the jurisdiction ruled by war-criminal Tony Blair (who has just applied a pickaxe to civil liberties) and the state led by war-accessory Bertie, the cries for justice continue to sound.

Comments are closed.