TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly both addressed Ennis District Court on Tuesday, claiming Ireland is complicit in atrocities through its decision to allow the US military to use Shannon Airport.
They criticised the lack of inspections on aircraft being used by the US military, claiming that relying on diplomatic assurances from America is hopelessly inadequate.
The two are accused of climbing a perimeter fence at Shannon and entering a part of the airport to which they were not permitted on July 22 of last year.
During evidence on Tuesday, both freely acknowledged that they had entered the area in question but claimed they were left with no other option due to the lack of inspections being carried out by the authorities.
They said they had been told to provide some concrete evidence to justify inspections and that their attempt to get to a US aircraft on the Shannon tarmac was a response.
Mr Wallace also spoke about his experiences travelling through South America in his late teens and the effect that a massacre that occurred in Bolivia had on him.
Evidence was also given by well-known protestor Margaretta D’Arcy, who was previously imprisoned following an incursion at Shannon.
After hearing evidence and submissions, Judge Patrick Durcan adjourned the case until April 15, joking that his Easter is spoiled now, with quite a lot to consider.
The first witness on Tuesday was John Lannon of peace group, Shannonwatch.
A lecturer in UL with expertise in human rights, he said that he couldn’t say off-hand how many times concerns about aircraft at Shannon had been raised with gardaí but that it was “well over 100”.
He said that the organisation has “regular monthly peace vigils to draw attention to the illegal and unwelcome use of the airport and the failure to investigate possible breaches of international law”. He also noted that there is a “quite large” number of gardaí at these events.
The group monitor US military aircraft and there are others overseas who they share information with. Mr Lannon said they have made both oral and written submissions to gardaí, the oral ones typically at times when they knew a suspect aircraft was about to land.
Regarding what action followed its various contacts with the gardaí, he said, “The garda response has been essentially always to do nothing in relation to the requests”.
He claimed that on certain occasions, people making requests for inspections had been arrested, while at times the gardaí had sought “concrete information”.
Mr Lannon said that a plane used in the rendition of Khalid El Mazri in 2012 had passed through Shannon and following that, Amnesty International had called for a full independent investigation into the use of Shannon Airport.
He claimed that the Wikileaks cables which relate to Ireland showed that in the 2004-06 period there was “growing concern at political level, even certainty that rendition planes were going through Shannon”.
Furthermore, he said that in March 2011, in response to demands for evidence, activists brought gardaí two wheelbarrows full of information, including national and international reports and logs of movements at Shannon but he said this was “to no avail”.
He said that international reports from respected organisations identify Shannon as part of “rendition circuits”.
During his evidence, he claimed that Shannonwatch have been told that military planes don’t have weapons but that the organisation has a photograph of a 30mm canon coming out the side of an aircraft.
“Not only are there breaches of international law at Shannon, there is no proper oversight of what is going on at the airport,” he said.
An animated Ms D’Arcy gave evidence, saying her commitment to fighting militarism had been forged when she was forced to leave London close to the start of World War II.
She praised the two TDs’ actions. “We need our elected representatives to show us what’s going on,” she said. “It is not right to live in a country where we hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.”
Former ramp agent at Shannon, Robert Gardiner gave evidence and said that he had been on military planes as part of his job and that he had often seen guns on them. He said that while in that job, on one occasion he had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a weapon but that no charges were subsequently preferred.
After taking the stand, Deputy Daly said that she feels the current system around the use of the airport “is designed to cause confusion” with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Transport, the Department of Justice and the Department of Defence all involved.
She said that exemptions for carrying weapons on certain aircraft can be given but they must be stored in the hold of the planes and that the testimony from Mr Gardiner, and from other witnesses on the first day of the hearing, show this is not being complied with.
She claimed that since being elected in 2011, Mr Wallace and herself have put down “the guts of 100 parliamentary questions to the four relevant ministers”.
However, she was critical of the responses received. “The answers are not as clear as our questions would be.”
She claimed that when questions are put about possible irregularities, the onus is put on those asking the questions to provide evidence.
Ms Daly also said that herself and Mr Wallace had met with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where they discussed the Wikileaks cables as they relate to Shannon.
In the lead-up to the date of the offence with which she is charged, she said, “We knew a number of aircraft were present. We’d spent three and a half years as TDs seeking answers to questions and we knew that people on the ground had contacted the gardaí numerous times.”
She said that Mr Wallace and herself felt they had “no other choice” to get the information sought by the authorities, as those they had asked to carry out searches hadn’t taken any action.
She also referred to the “horror of Iraq and Afghanistan”, which she said had led to the rise of ISIS.
When asked if she had entered the airport in a way that is not permitted, she said she did but that it was for a “higher cause; there’s a greater problem to be dealt with”.
During his evidence, Mr Wallace said that as a 17-year-old he “went to South America for five months with very little in my pocket and witnessed, at first hand, the impact that American imperialism had in the region”.
He claimed that American troops had been involved in killing 160 leading figures in a mining strike in Bolivia and that there had been little notice taken, something that had surprised him. “When I came home, I was pretty struck that the world hadn’t heard about it.”
The avid soccer fan said he supports Irish neutrality and that he feels it is one of the reasons he is well received when he travels to soccer tournaments and tells people he meets that he is Irish, rather than English.
Mr Wallace said that since 9/11, more than one million civilians have been killed around the world. “The idea that Ireland is part of this in any way is just too much,” he said. “We are complicit. We let them use our airport to carry out carnage at a worldwide level.”
Mr Wallace said that former Justice Minister, Alan Shatter had been “as derogatory as he could with me” and had then said to him to go and get evidence of illegal use of Shannon.
He said that he had telephoned Ennis Garda Station, where he had said he believed a military plane at the airport had weapons and again he was asked if he had evidence. He said he had told the garda he spoke with that no evidence would be available unless the gardaí carry out a search.
The Wexford native said there was no way that himself and Ms Daly would be allowed to carry out a search if they asked and that their “only chance was to get over the fence illegally and search ourselves”.
He said he felt they were not breaking the law, as they complied with what he said is the Nuremberg principle, which obliges people to break domestic laws to protect humanity. The situation left the TDs “with no other choice”, he claimed.
Regarding Ireland’s current position, he said, “It breaks my heart that we promote war”.
He also claimed that ministers have been playing “cat and mouse with every regulation under the sun” and he also said that there is “secrecy, deception and total lack of honesty in how the Government deals with it [the US use of Shannon].”
Ms Daly was represented by solicitor, Gareth Noble and he said that if Judge Durcan finds the defendants not guilty, the Government “will have to look at the whole area afresh; they will have to go back to the drawing board”.
The case has been adjourned and will come up for mention on April 15.
By Owen Ryan