IRELAND: Jailed for Refusing to Be Silent – Peace Activist Margaretta D’Arcy
Margaretta D’Arcy is not a war criminal. Nor is she a human rights abuser, or the commander of an invading army. But she has spent many years drawing attention to the fact that these type of people pass through Shannon Airport regularly. The legally and morally correct response from the Irish police would be to investigate this complicity in wrongdoing at Shannon. Instead they imprisoned 79 year old Margaretta because she wouldn’t promise to stay away from the airport.
A peace activist who draws too much attention to US and NATO injustices is locked up in supposedly neutral Ireland, while the country’s morally corrupt government continues to bend over backwards to support their imperialist plundering. Ireland is obligated under customary international laws on neutrality to not allow US troops involved in wars to transit through Irish territory, and to arrest any such soldiers found on Irish territory. But the government not only refuses to do this – it even welcomes them.
The imbalance in the administration of justice is staggering. Margaretta and Niall Farrell, both members of Galway Alliance Against War, went onto the runway at Shannon on 7th October 2012 as part of an international week of protest against US killer drones. These drones may well be going through Shannon on some of the many US Hercules C-130′s that land there, despite the claims of our Minister for Foreign Affairs that these aircraft are unarmed, carrying no arms and are not part of military exercises or operations. These claims are meaningless, as there is photographic evidence of at least one US Hercules landing at Shannon in 2013 armed with 30mm cannon. And on that basis Margaretta and Niall’s action was fully justified.
Thousands of innocent people have been executed without trial by drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen (with the approval of President Barack Obama), and thousands more have been injured and badly mutilated. Yet the Irish government pretends Shannon is not involved, just like it pretends the airport was not involved in renditions.
Margaretta and others have tried in vain to have these serious violations of international law investigated. Going onto the runway was a last resort in her efforts to have what she called a long overdue “conversation with the State”. In Ennis District Court she explained why it was necessary to do what she did, but the court handed down a three month suspended sentence on condition that she sign a bond not to go back onto the runway. She refused, so the sentence was imposed. And Margaretta has ended up in Limerick Prison.
Margaretta has rightly claimed that Ireland is an active ally and participant in illegal wars. The State has responded by demanding her silence and her inaction. Indeed it’s not the first time it has gone to great lengths to protect the illegality being perpetrated at Shannon. Arrests, court cases, barring of activists from the airport, restrictions imposed on protests – these and other violations of civil liberties have all become par for the course in a government-led curtailment of open discussion about what’s going on at Shannon. The extent to which public opinion is being ignored is evident from the fact that in a 2013 poll conducted for PANA by Red C, 78% of people expressed the view that Ireland should have a policy of neutrality. It’s not something that gets spoken about by government Ministers. Indeed despite what Article 5 of the Irish Constitution says about Ireland being a “sovereign, independent, democratic state”, the military-industrial complex is alive and well here, with the mainstream media giving it all the support they can muster.
Margaretta and Niall Farrell are due in court again next week, on January 22nd, to answer another charge relating to action they took at Shannon. This one was on September 1st 2013 when it looked likely that the US was about to declare war on Syria. Throughout the world there was considerable fear that there would a dangerous escalation of the conflict there, and as Pope Francis was leading the faithful in prayer for an end to war in Syria, Margaretta and Niall once again made their way to Shannon to express their opposition to a US war against Syria. These actions are now forcing the State and the media to take note; sooner or later they will have to acknowledge the strong anti-war sentiment that exists throughout the country.
Shannonwatch unreservedly supports Margaretta, and condemns the heavy handed approach taken by the authorities who imprisoned her. We’ve joined the campaign calling for her immediate release, and we will be organising protests outside Limerick Prison every week until such time as this happens. However as Margaretta herself said from prison, the ultimate objective is not just to free her, it is to free Shannon from the US Military.
Finally, the term prisoner of conscience, which is used to refer to people who have been put into prison for their political or social beliefs or for breaking the law while protesting against a political or social system, fits Margaretta perfectly. In a country where the lip service being paid to human rights is ringing increasingly hollow, the significance of her action is immense. And let’s hope that the renewed energy it gives to the peace movement in Ireland yields the desired results.