Nine people in Derry in Northern Ireland have been charged under terrorism laws following an occupation of the local Raytheon plant during which, police claim, £350,000 damage was done to computer equipment.
The US company Raytheon is one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world, supplying guidance systems for many of the missiles and bombs used by US and Israeli forces in the Middle East. Raytheon systems guided the Qana bomb to the bunker where it blasted and crushed at least 51 people, including many children, to death last month.
Three of the arrested men, Colm Bryce, Kieran Gallagher and Eamonn McCann are members of the Derry branch of the Socialist Workers’ Party while another, Sean Heaton is a member of the Socialist Environmental Alliance. The five others, Eamonn O’Donnell, Gary Donnelly, Paddy McDaid, Jimmy Kelly and Micky Gallagher are Republicans, from the IRSP and the 32-Country Sovereignty Committee.
After hours of questioning, all nine were charged with Aggravated Burglary and Unlawful Assembly. These are “scheduled” offences, meaning they would be heard before a Diplock, non-jury court. These charges also meant that the men couldn’t be given bail by the Magistrates’ Court but had to be remanded to prison before a bail application in the High Court.
The only reason for the remand in prison and the severity of the charges is that the protestors live in Northern Ireland. This would not have happened in Britain or the South of Ireland. Despite the New Labour talk of a new NI, political dissent is still treated differently here.
At the bail hearing, the Crown tried to raise Eamonn McCann’s convictions on public order offences going back to the civil rights movement 1968/69/70. However, the judge said that the “vintage” of these charges made them irrelevant.
The arms merchants were brought to Derry in 1999 by SDLP and Ulster Unionist leaders John Hume and David Trimble: the announcement of the plant was made at the pair’s first joint public appearance following their receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was patrt, they said, of “the peace dividend.”
The savage irony was immediately apparent. An argument over Raytheon has continued in Derry since. However, all the local mainstream parties—John Hume’s SDLP, Gerry Adams’s Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley’s DUP—have backed the company’s presence, arguing that the Derry plant isn’t directly involved in arms manufacture and that driving Raytheon out would deter other investors in an area of high unemployment.
Speaking from a window at the plant during the occupation, Eamonn McCann said: “We had to dramatise the argument so as to force the issue into the mainstream.”
Documents and computers were hurled from windows and the computer mainframe and other equipment put out of action.
The idea for the occupation emerged from a packed meeting of the Derry Anti War Coalition on August 2nd addressed by former Abu Ghraib interrogator Joshua Casteel of Iraqi Veterans Against War and Hani Lazim of Iraqi Democrates against the Occupation. Discussion from the floor focused on Raytheon, and the role it gave Derry in the arms trade. The activists knew that, despite the line of the main parties, there is real anger in the town at the idea of software developed in Derry helping to murder people in Lebanon and Gaza.
On August 9th at 8am, protestors arrived at the building Raytheon shares with a call centre. The police were already in position. At about 8.30, an employee about to go into work hesitated for an instant and the anti-war activists rushed the door. Police started grabbing people by the scruff of the necks and literally throwing them back out. The nine now charged are those who made it into Raytheon’s premises.
Once inside, the protestors erected barricades against the police and set about decommissioning the equipment. Many files thrown out the window gave the lie to the claims that the Derry plant had no connection with the arms trade.
Once local radio started to report the occupation, others started to arrive to join the protest. In the course of the day, between 80 and 100 people kept the solidarity picket going. Cars on the main road honked their horns in support. Local residents brought coffee, sandwiches and cake.
Armed police in riot gear stormed the buildinng after eight hours and carried the protestors out in handcuffs. Almost all were battered and bruised in the process.
At the bail hearing, barrister Joe Brolly pointed out that Raytheon had had a turnover of $21.9 billion last year, and described them as “purveyors of death”.
Bail was granted but the restrictions are draconian. Conditions include an exclusion zone around Raytheon, and also ban the protestors from attending any public meeting or any private meeting of Derry Anti War Coalition or the Irish Anti War Movement. They were told that a “private meeting” means any meeting of three or more people.
A Raytheon 9 Defence Campaign is now being established across Ireland.
GORETTI HORGAN is a member of the Derry Antiwar Coalition. The campaign can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org