FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pitstop Ploughshares

Dublin.

“They won’t actually get put in prison, will they?” Call it a postcolonial hangover, but Irish people have a healthy skepticism about high-minded concepts such as “an independent judiciary”. So when you mention to ordinary friends and colleagues that the five Catholic Worker activists arrested in February for damage to a US Navy plane at Shannon Airport — an action previously described here in CounterPunch— are going to face trial for their actions, the response is often based on the implicit belief that the Irish government will somehow avoid making prison-martyrs of them. Sure, they’ll have to be prosecuted — the Yanks would expect no less — but not locked up; that would be a national embarrassment, not to mention a focus for dissent.

It’s a nice thought, and quite possibly accurate. But listen to the Pitstop Ploughshares group for a few minutes and it becomes obvious that they’re not putting their faith in any such nod-and-a-wink “Irish solution”. Indeed, by pressing for a jury trial on the criminal-damage charges, before the Circuit Court, they’ve pushed up their potential sentences to 10 years, and by thus raising the prosecuting costs for the state, they may have made a harsher punishment that much more likely.

So it was sighs of relief all around the other day when they won a small but significant victory: their trial date has been postponed from June 24 until at least October, on the basis of insufficient “discovery”, and perhaps even more importantly the venue has been moved, from picturesque Kilrush, Co Clare, to Dublin. The defendants might have relished trying to convince a jury from the environs of the airport — where there is considerable, and quite possibly increasing, economic dependence on military stopovers. Their lawyers reckon they stand a better chance with “peers” who haven’t been bombarded with stories about the destructive effects of protest on the local economy.

They still face a considerable fight. We have written here previously about the characteristic Irish Catholic allergy to religious enthusiasm, and about the extraordinarily prejudicial coverage and commentary from the state broadcaster and government ministers that followed the Ploughshares arrest. (The government was particularly pissed off because spokespeople had been so sanguine about Shannon Airport security after a similar breach about a week earlier; activist Mary Kelly, from the Atlantis community, faces a separate trial for that action, and is back in court in the next couple of weeks.)

The immediate spin on the Ploughshares group was that they had ‘overpowered’ a policeman during their wee-hours action, though no assault charges were subsequently proffered. “We prefer to say he was ‘overwhelmed’, like the centurion at Christ’s tomb,” says defendant Ciaron O’Reilly, at 42 by far the oldest of the group and, as a veteran of US and Australian actions and prisons, its obvious ‘ringleader’. He says that in the tradition of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”, the group ministered to the policeman, who was shocked and worried about the consequences for his livelihood of the three women and two men running around with wire-cutters, inflatable hammers and blood for splashing on runways.

When the burly, dreadlocked Australian O’Reilly speaks, it’s with utter conviction, but every third sentence is a joke. He imagines, for instance, setting up a pacifist wing at Portlaoise prison, where unreconstructed paramilitary prisoners are still held. “While the Real IRA and the INLA are doing their military drills, I could be doing tai-chi.” He and the other four defendants are, by dint of their intelligence, passion and wit, the best argument that a “just cause” acquittal is possible, especially if they’re allowed to speak their minds in the witness box.

Three of them, including O’Reilly, are diaspora Irish. American Nuin Dunlop has zealously blue eyes and a ready laugh, and has learned her politics young from Catholic Worker comrades in the US and here in Ireland. Scotswoman Karen Fallon is a smokier, edgier character, visibly angry at the injustices meted out to the people of Iraq: “I did what felt right for me at the time, and it still feels right for me. I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.”

Dubliner Deirdre Clancy is seriously and deeply engaged with the ethics of her action and its personal consequences. She says matter-of-factly: “When you know the truth, sometimes you have to either act on that knowledge or go crazy.” And seminarian Damien Moran is the clean-cut country boy who carefully weighed the successes and failures of ‘pressure’ politics before his crawl under the perimeter fence; he should appeal to any mammies on the jury. None of them underestimate the seriousness of what they’ve done or what they face; as bail conditions were being argued, they all spent at least a month in jail between February and April.

With his Berrigan mentors O’Reilly was accustomed to months of preparation for non-violent direct actions. At the Shannon ‘peace camp’ the Ploughshares 5 came together and planned their action in a matter of less than two weeks. There was and is something ad-hoc about their alliance. Rumour has it that after their arrest, when they were asked to state their religion, one of the five began to explain her pagan, wicca influences, before a quick elbow prompted her to declare “Catholic!”

Nonetheless their relationship remains visibly strong– thankfully they were able to lose the initial bail condition that they could not confer with each other. (They still have to stay out of Clare, stay a mile away from the US embassy and sign on every single day at a police station, a duty usually only imposed on accused murderers.) They will tell anyone who wants to listen that their February action was a matter of bearing ‘prophetic witness’, and of making the point that not only had the war against Iraq’s people been going on for 13 years, but that its escalation into more bombing and killing was an obvious fait accompli. “There was very little option to ‘influence’ the governments,” O’Reilly says. “At that stage it should have been obvious to anyone that they were just marketing a pre-determined decision.”

Of course in February there were millions of people who still hoped the relevant governments were amenable to influence. O’Reilly notes with some resignation that, at the Dublin February 15 protest, attended by more than 100,000 people, the then-still-jailed activists were never even mentioned from the stage.

On June 24, instead of facing trial in Kilrush, the Ploughshares group are walking from an ancient pagan and Christian well in Kildare right up to Dublin’s Leinster House, where parliament sits. There they will stage an overnight fast. But they know that’s just the first stop, and they’re ready for what lies ahead. “We want to take the spirit of the action into the courtroom,” O’Reilly says, “and, if necessary, back into the prison system.”

See also www.ploughsharesireland.org

HARRY BROWNE writes for The Irish Times and is a lecturer in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology. He can be contacted at harrybrowne@eircom.net

More articles by:

Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). Email:harry.browne@gmail.com, Twitter @harrybrowne

August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omaorosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail