Fined For Opposing US Wars

Sandy Boyer (SB) interviews via telephone from Dublin Teachta Dála for Dublin North Clare Daly (CD) about being convicted and fined for attempting to search a US military plane at Shannon Airport. Thanks to TPQ's transcriber.

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
25 April 2015 

(begins time stamp ~ 36:25) 

SB: And we have with us on the line, Clare Daly, the independent socialist member of the Irish Parliament. Clare, thank you very much for being with us.

CD: No problem at all, Sandy. My pleasure.

SB:  And Clare, you are facing thirty days in prison because you went on the runway at Shannon to try to inspect a US warplane. Why did you feel it was so important to do that?

CD: Yeah, I mean look, it wasn't an isolated event. I think it's important to say that.  Myself and another colleague and member of Parliament, Mick Wallace have, over a period of three years, been questioning various different departments in the Irish government to try and ensure that our policy of military neutrality is being upheld in Ireland. 

Now, we have very good reason to believe that that's not the case given the very large numbers of US military aircraft that land on a daily basis in Shannon Airport; the amount of troops that transit now. The only basis upon which they're supposed to be allowed to land in Ireland is on the basis that they're unarmed and not involved in any military exercises. Now, we don't believe that that's the case. We have evidence that on a number of occasions they were armed. And also we believe that they're involved in military exercises as well. So we've been asking the Irish government to search the aircraft. They haven't been willing to do it. So we took it upon ourselves to do that which is an activity which some other peace campaigners have done themselves previously as well. 

SB:    And Clare, what do we know about these US warplanes? For example, during the Iraq war were soldiers being transported to Iraq? Are munitions on these planes? Do we know any of that? 

CD:   Yeah! I mean, we've had - even recently we had - in the course of – we  were taken to court for breaching the by-laws – for scaling the fence at the airport and for being in a restricted area. And we have three people who gave testimony of seeing weaponry on board the aircraft despite the fact these would be airport staff who maybe would have been cleaning the planes. We had a man who was actually accused of stealing a plane (gun) from an aircraft - now bearing in mind that these are supposed to be aircraft that don't have any weapons on them so how he could have been accused of stealing a gun?  – but there you are! And we had a military correspondent who had actually been invited onto an aircraft whereby the sergeant in charge made an announcement to tell the soldiers on it to leave their guns on their seats and not bring them into the airport. Even though we've been told by our government that if soldiers are in transit on a civilian aircraft the weaponry and guns have to be in the hold and can't be accessible. So, we've pretty good evidence. We know that over two and a half million troops on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan have transited through Shannon Airport which is kind of half the overall numbers. 

SB:  And what was your defence at the trial? 

CD:  Well, I mean we had to admit that we were guilty of the charge if you'd like in the sense of that we did scale the fence and we did enter an unauthorised area. But we said we believed that we had a moral responsibility to do that because we had spent three years in the parliament questioning multiple ministers. We've a very peculiar situation whereby military aircraft that want to land or over-fly have to seek permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs. We're told that that permission is only given if they're unarmed and not involved in military exercises even though soldiers and weaponry can travel on a civilian aircraft as long as the weaponry is locked away. So there have been a number of occasions whereby say a cannon was on display on an aircraft -  the response to that was: Oh, that was a mistake - it shouldn't have been there. So we have been questioning for three years about this and we say that the evidence is there. Various ministers told us to go and get it and that's really what we were attempting to do. 

SB:  So in other words you were been doing what the Irish government told you to do!

CD:  Exactly! And we had Ministers - the Minister for Justice - the former Minister for Foreign Affairs – who said: If what you're saying is true - that these aircraft have weaponry on board or whatever or are involved in military exercises - well then get us the evidence. They even said that. So we were attempting to get the evidence. We were attempting to search the aircraft which is something that the Irish government could do and we've been asking them to do. So really that's all we were doing. 

We think that under the Nuremberg Principles and so on we have a responsibility if we feel that a greater wrong is being done well then we were, if you'd like, right to break a by-law in order to try and get to the truth when so much horrible activity is going on on a global scale. I mean, the world is looking on at the loss of hundreds indeed thousands of lives of desperate refugees who are fleeing in the Mediterranean. There are now thirty-three million refugees worldwide. Many of these are fleeing from areas which have been at the receiving end of NATO and US military activity. So the instability that's there now, the roots of ISIS and the terrible goings-on of that organisation, is founded in the original invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we believe that the Irish government are complicit in that by not taking any action to make sure our neutrality is being protected.

SB:  But Clare, I would think that you and Mick Wallace, as elected representatives of the Irish people, elected to the Irish Parliament, would have a special responsibility to inspect and find out if Irish law is being broken.

CD:  Well, to be honest that's what we thought as well and we made that argument with the judge. I mean previously, other peace campaigners had tried to do the same – they were the ones who, if you'd like, invited us down there. We've been working with them since we got elected; over period of four years now. Hundreds of parliamentary questions to the ministers. We even went to visit Julian Assange from WikiLeaks in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and discussed with him the WikiLeaks cables which show the close relationship between the American Establishment and the Irish government in terms of the use of Shannon in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.

So we thought we were doing the right thing. I think a lot of people in Ireland would agree with us that we were but unfortunately the judge didn't. And you know, it was a little bit mad because we had two days of evidence where the evidence that we gave the judge actually in his summing up said that he accepted the knowledge and the expertise of the witnesses that we had assembled and these were witnesses who showed all these regulations being breached. He also said that the state didn't challenge that evidence and yet he said because we technically, I suppose, breached what we were up in court for he had no option but to convict us.
SB: But Clare, I'm not sure all the people in the US know this, because it sometimes doesn't act like a neutral country, but Ireland is supposed to be neutral. So what does this say about Irish neutrality that US warplanes can use Shannon like this?
CD: That's the heart of this argument, right? The governments say that there's been a longstanding arrangement with the US military to allow them lands and over-fly as a matter of course, if you'd like – because of the close links between the two countries - but provided that they are unarmed and not involved in military exercises. And you see, years ago when there wasn't much happening on a global scale – when we had the Soviet Union and the Cold War stand-off – and you had US troops who were garrisoned in Germany and so on maybe once or twice a year they might land at Shannon, you know, to-ing and fro-ing on their holidays – going back to the United States – to go to Germany – they weren't involved in anything and that was fine. But it all changed around Afghanistan and Iraq where we now have on a daily basis at least two Hercules C-130 military aircraft landing in Shannon. We had a retired Irish Army officer who last Saturday was about to board a flight to London. He noticed in the whole airport – and this is a civilian airport in Ireland – they were four ordinary, civilian aircraft and four US military aircraft. And he attempted to search one of those aircraft and he himself was also arrested last week. So, we're supposed to be neutral but this is going on twice a day. Fifty-five thousand US troops transited last year and the government seriously expects us to believe that they weren't involved in any military activity? I mean it kind of begs the question: Well, what were they doing then? These aircraft cost a lot of money to shift around the world. They're not going on their holidays or going to play golf. Clearly, they're involved in military activity. And under Irish neutrality they should not be facilitated on our shore. And to be honest I think a lot of Americans would probably believe that rather than spending the money on that the Irish government should be making sure that American companies pay their taxes in America so that services in America could be improved rather than using Ireland to get off paying lower amounts of tax.
SB: Well Clare, some of us actually would rather that the US government stop spending its money on war but that's perhaps another question.
CD: I would absolutely agree with you on that one as well. And you know, we were accused by our Prime Minister, An Taoiseach, before of sort of being anti-American and we said: Listen, here. An awful lot of American people would much prefer to see their welfare system, to see real job creation progress than to see young men and women being sent out to other parts of the globe, maybe to end up themselves losing their own lives, and to create the instability now that we're seeing now on a global scale. It would be in everybody's interest if that stopped. And that's why, if you'd like, in solidarity with ordinary citizens in America, with Veterans for Peace and so on that we took the stance that we did. And we're glad we did and we're obviously going to carry on that battle.
SB:  But Clare, they testified – you told me that they testified that in terms of a “special relationship” between Ireland and America. Now for one, I'm Irish-American - I feel very strong relationship and identity with the people of Ireland but not necessarily the government of Ireland and I think that might apply to other people.
CD: You better believe it it does! I mean, of course it does! And I mean that's the same here – like we would see here our Taoiseach would get up and claim to represent the people of Ireland but there's been hundreds of thousands of people involved in the streets here opposing our government, too. And we stand on the side of the ordinary people in America who I don't think whose interests are not being served by the US war machine. I mean let's face it, the only people who are benefiting from this now are the big arms companies and it's probably linked to the fact that it's a very expensive job to become president of the United States of America and if you have big business backers paying for your campaign well then, they want some of that money back. And if they are producing guns and weaponry it's in their interest to have war to boost their profits. And that's really what we've been really seeing to the detriment of ordinary citizens; Americans, those in the Middle East and everywhere else.
SB: But Clare, they told you – I don't know how much the fine was that they imposed – I don't think it would bankrupt you – but they said if you pay this fine that you won't go to prison.
CD: Yeah, it wouldn't bankrupt us, right?  But it was pretty severe in the context -  we went to a lot of trouble of not causing any damage – we didn't get in anybody's way or anything -  it was it was a thousand Euro each – it was four thousand Euro between us. But no, it wouldn't bankrupt us but we believe that to give that money to an Irish state which has engaged in the utter hypocrisy of on the one hand saying that we are a neutral country and that our laws are being respected and then when they're given evidence that that's not the case to just blatantly ignore that?  That type of hypocritical state doesn't deserve to be enriched with our money and we are not going to pay that.  So if they choose to send us to gaol then we'll do that. I mean, it's worth remembering that last year a very well-known veteran peace campaigner, Margaretta D'Arcy , a seventy-nine year old woman who's on a walking frame who has Parkinson's Disease spent three months in prison for her role of going onto the runway in Shannon to highlight the use of that airport. And I think for the interest of the people who live in the area, the workers in the airport and indeed the young men and women who are in the US military that we should be saying: Not on our soil. and:  We don't want that blood on our hands. And I think everybody has to play their own part and I suppose that's the part we'll make – whether the state decides to send us to gaol or not? Well, that's up to them.  
SB: We had the pleasure actually of having Margaretta on this show, I think shortly after she got out, and it was a great honour.

CD: Oh, she's fantastic! She's really awesome! And she was there with us again. And you know, I suppose the message is and the Irish government had better cop-on - we're not going away! I mean as I said, a retired Army officer, Ed Horrigan, who is seventy years of age, he was arrested this day last week out in Shannon attempting to carry out a search and I have no doubt that others will follow. We believe that in the course of our four years in parliament now through forensic questioning of the ministers we're getting a much better idea of how they are dealing with this issue - or rather how they're not dealing with it and how they're attempting to get away with it - and we attempt to challenge that in other arenas and we're looking at our over-all strategy in that regard.

SB: Now Clare, just on another subject but it seems to me that's perhaps one of the few real benefits for being in Parliament - I mean, someone like you is not going to pass a lot of legislation – I doubt – I wish you would – but -  don't think it's going to happen - but it does allow you to actually question – and we also - because we're in the Age of YouTube - we're actually able to see some of the questioning you do and it seems to me that's the real benefit of being in parliament.

CD: It is! Look it, we're in the opposition. We have a government with a very large majority so there's never going to be a time when someone gets sick or whatever that the government might lose a vote. Absolutely not. They haven't lost a single vote. They've lost the hearts and minds of the population but in the parliament they have enough people to make sure that whatever they want goes through. So we see the parliament really as sort of a platform to try and organise from.

It's been really useful to the peace campaigners at Shannon who have valiantly and heroically kept this issue going. They have monthly vigils there. They've been at this for thirteen years without a break. And having us in there, being able to put the spotlight on these issues and being able to actually get some good information as well, has been invaluable to them.  So look it - we wouldn't be in there otherwise if we weren't been able to stir things up a bit so there's no point otherwise is there?  You've got to try and make a difference and get people thinking and get people asking questions and challenging the status quo otherwise, there really is no point.

SB: Clare, before I let you go: We've been covering a little bit about the water charges and the really savage austerity that's being imposed on the Irish people. Do you think there's a relation between that and having US warplanes at Shannon?

CD: Well, you know, I suppose it's a reflection again of the gulf between the in the way in which ordinary people are treated and the way in which political establishments operate - be it in America, be it in Ireland, be it in Syria – where ever – ordinary people are kind of  always made to pay the price for the crimes of those in the banks and in the white suits who bankrupted our economy – we're expected to pay for that on our living standards, our children's and our grand-children's, and it's just not on. And I think it's heartening to see people rising up against that. The anti-water struggle in Ireland has been the biggest people-power movement that we've seen in decades. We were privileged to have people over from Detroit as part of that battle experience. So you know, it's great! It's getting to be a smaller world and like that we've been able to follow what they were doing in their battles and that's been helpful to us as well so hopefully that is a beacon for how things can change.

SB: Well, again, we've been speaking to Clare Daly, who is an independent socialist member of the Irish Parliament, and who is facing thirty days in prison for trying to inspect a US warplane at Shannon. Clare, thank you very much for being with us. 

CD: Thanks very much for having me on, Sandy, and best of luck to you and all your listeners! 

SB: I'll talk to you again soon.   (end time stamp ~ 54:10)

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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