Confronting Censorship in Ireland

According to exit polls from late May, an impressive 82% of Irish voters say Ireland should remain a neutral country in all aspects. But Ireland is not remaining a neutral country in all aspects, and there’s no indication of whether Irish voters know that, or specifically what they think of the fact that the United States military, year after year, ships large numbers of troops and weapons (and occasionally presidents) through Shannon Airport on their way to endless disastrous wars.

When peace activists attempt to inspect the military planes at Shannon for weapons, they are thrown in jail, and the Irish Times reports on how they like the jail — which could lead some particularly enterprising readers to investigate what it was the activists had risked arrest for. Or someone might be able to get a letter to the editor printed to inform the newspaper’s readers what the story they’d read had been about.

While the jail in Limerick is, by all accounts, better than some jails, what might someone do who wanted to promote peace and stand up for that 82% of Ireland that favors neutrality in all aspects, but who didn’t want to go to jail?

Well, you can join a regular vigil outside the airport. But how will people who don’t already know about that, or don’t have time for it, find out about the issue in the first place?

A lot of us had an idea. There are billboards along the road to Shannon Airport. Why not collect enough money to rent one and put our message on it: “U.S. Troops Out of Shannon Airport!” Surely there would be some people who would prefer that we take that approach rather than breaking through fences onto the grounds of the airport.

I contacted a Sales Manager at Clear Channel in Dublin, but he stalled and delayed and evaded and prevaricated until I finally took a hint. Clear Channel will not accept money to put up a billboard for peace; and something else that’s not neutral in Ireland is the billboards.

So, I got in touch with a Direct Sales Executive at J.C. Decaux, which rents billboards in Limerick and Dublin. I sent him two billboard designs as an experiment. He said he would accept one but refuse the other. The acceptable one said “Peace. Neutrality. Ireland.” The unacceptable one said “U.S. Troops Out of Shannon.”

I’m reminded of the member of a school board in the United States who said he would support celebrating the International Day of Peace as long as nobody got the impression he was against any wars.

The J.C. Decaux executive told me that it was “company policy not to accept and display campaigns deemed to be of a religious or politically sensitive nature.” I don’t think he was suggesting religion was involved here, but rather was employing the expansive definition of “political” which covers basically any message aimed at improving the world rather than selling something. I give him more credit than the Clear Channel guy, as he at least had the decency to state his censorship policy straightforwardly rather than trying to hide.

I tried another company called Exterion, where their salesman insisted that we speak by phone, not email. When we spoke by phone, he was quite helpful until I told him what our billboard would say. Then he promised to email me details, only it was the sort of promise Donald Trump makes when he promises you’re going to win so much you’ll be sick of winning. He knows that you know that he knows that you know he’s lying. I received no email.

There is one way around this blatant censorship, if you have time for it. Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers have put our message on the road to Shannon by bringing a banner to a bridge. (See photo.) They’ve even gotten some local media outlets to pay attention for a minute or two.

Sometimes I like to imagine a world in which people who wanted to end war or torture or environmental destruction were permitted to buy ads, and people who wanted to sell insurance and hamburgers and telephone service had to hold banners up on bridges. Maybe we’ll get there someday.

Meanwhile, here are some other things we’re trying, as ways to wriggle around the censorship:

Read and sign the petition: U.S. Military Out of Ireland!

Watch and share this video: “U.S. Vets Expose Irish Government Complicity in War Crimes.”

Help plan and promote, and register to attend a major conference and rally in Limerick and at Shannon in October; learn more, see photos: #NoWar2019.

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