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Cosantóirí Síochána, Shannon Banner Drop Photo Report.
anti-war / imperialism |
Thursday March 30, 2006 20:53 by Niall Harnett - Na Cosantóirí Síochána.
An account of the ‘Shannon Banner Drop’ & subsequent vexatious arrest of 4 peace activists at Shannon Airport on Saturday 17th September 2005.
This ‘better late than never’ photo report comes after the recent instructions from the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) to Shannon Gardaí directing the withdrawal of all charges against Conor Cregan, Niall Harnett, Mags Liddy and St John Ó’Donnabháin. See http://www.indymedia.ie/article/74769 . Ok, so this report is 6 months late, but it was felt at the time, wisely or unwisely, that early statements or photos of the episode might have jeopardised our cases.
This is just a brief summary of events, for more detailed versions see ‘comments’ for individual accounts of what happened. Some information and photos here taken from Airport CCTV footage and Airport Police and Garda statements requested by defendants under ‘Gary Doyle’ order of disclosure of evidence.
Special thanks to Owen Rice for his legal advice and support.
Cosantóirí Síochána, Peace Network meeting this Sat 1st April, 2pm, the Teachers Club, Parnell Sq, Dublin. Phone 086 3454322.
Cosantóirí Síochána, Aron Baker, Niall Harnett & Conor Cregan defending the peace …
On Saturday Sept 17th 2005, eight peace activists arrived at Shannon Airport in the early afternoon. They were there to stage a peaceful protest against the ongoing abuse of Shannon in the war on the citizens of Iraq and to highlight the United Nations investigation of the Irish Government’s facilitation of the CIA programme of torture called ‘Extraordinary Rendition’. See http://www.indymedia.ie/article/72027 . Aron Baker, Conor Cregan & Niall Harnett went to the restaurant balcony which overlooks the carpark while three more protesters stood outside below the balcony near the doors to the terminal building.
The restaurant balcony is accessible to the public through two doors adjoining the main restaurant. Although the balcony was closed when they arrived, one of the lads asked the restaurant manager if he would unlock the doors so as they could enjoy a pot of tea in the fresh air. The manager agreed to open the doors for the lads and they sat down at one of the balcony tables to relax. Soon after, Aron and Niall each put on Guantanamo Bay style orange jump-suits and Conor wore army fatigues and a white head-bandage stained with blood. They hung two banners from the balcony railings and voiced their protest to the public. Down below the three other protesters held two more banners while Mags Liddy and St John Ó Donnabháin were filming and taking photos of the event in the carpark.
Although Airport Staff & Security became aware of the demonstration quite early on, and attempted to enter through the balcony doors, it appears they had some difficulty gaining access. These doors require a key to lock or unlock them from the inside/restaurant side, while they merely require a turn of the latch to lock or unlock them from the balcony side! While many Staff & Security could only vocalise their own muffled protest on the other side of the glass balcony windows, it took a while for others to find a key which meant that the protest on the balcony side continued uninterrupted for about another ten minutes.
Finally, after managing to open the doors, a number of these men crashed out on to the balcony and without saying anything they started to pull down the banners. The men were asked to identify themselves by Niall, Conor and Aron but they refused to do so. They were later identified as Airport Police Sergeant Brian Casey, Airport Police Officer Tom Burke, Restaurant Supervisor Artsion Karabanau and Airport Duty Manager Paul Phelan.
Niall went to take down the ‘Cosantoiri Siochana’ banner for fear it would be torn, when it was ripped from his hands by APO Sgt Brian Casey. Niall took out his dictaphone and asked the man to identify himself, which he refused to do. Aron and Conor asked the other men to identify themselves, which they refused to do, all the while continuing to pull down the large banner. Conor was told he was being detained under Section 33 of the Air, Transport & Navigation Act, and Aron was grabbed from behind, his hands held behind his back and told he was being detained also. At this stage APO Sgt Brian Casey made an aggressive grab for Niall’s dictaphone and started wrestling with him to take it from him. Niall held on to the dictaphone and refused to give it to him saying that he was using it to record evidence. APO Tom Burke joined in the melee and tried to force Niall to release his grip on the dictaphone when Conor came to help Niall protect the dictaphone, using his body to come between APO Tom Burke and Niall. APO Tom Burke got very aggressive at this stage but seemed to calm down somewhat when Conor informed him of his recent vindication in court for use of a dictaphone in a similar situation. Niall turned on the dictaphone again and the three protestors continued to demand that these men identify themselves, give a reason for their behaviour and answer why they were trying to take property that did not belong to them. They refused repeatedly to answer any of these questions and never identified themselves. In fact they hid their identity badges behind their ties or in their shirt pockets or wore none at all. The men collected bags belonging to Aron, Conor and Niall and told them they were being detained.
At this stage a number of other Airport Security had arrived in the balcony and they started to lead the three protesters out and away from the restaurant balcony. In order to protect the evidence recorded on the Dictaphone, Conor refused to walk and lay down on the ground to attract the attention of officers who were still trying to get the dictaphone from Niall. Ignoring the instruction of APO Kieran O’Mahoney to drag him along the floor, Conor was carried away from the balcony by his sleeves and trouser bottoms, ripping his clothes. At one stage they tried to force Conor into a wheelchair which he successfully resisted. The lads were taken downstairs through the terminal hall and through to the arrivals hall, all the while voicing their protest at the ongoing abuse at Shannon Airport. They were then held near the customs desk where arguments continued about identification and property, when APO Kieran O’Mahoney became very aggressive again with Conor, sticking his face into his. Soon after two Gardai, Sgt Dave Condren and Garda Pat Clarke arrived from Shannon Garda Station.
Hundreds of people at the airport that day saw all this and heard the continuous anti-war message being shouted throughout the whole time. When detained near customs, the bloodstained soldier, Conor, instructed the two Guantanamo victims Aron & Niall to get down on their knees and put their hands on their heads, shouting orders at them, watched by those who’d just arrived from abroad to collect their bags at the carousel close by!
Niall continued to use the dictaphone to record all conversations until Garda Condren said that he did not wish to be recorded and asked him to turn it off. Niall told him that he was within his rights to continue to use the dictaphone when Sgt Condren grabbed his hand and turned off the tape. APO Tom Burke then grabbed the dictaphone, causing it to fall on the ground, cracking and smashing with the batteries falling out onto the floor. Niall told the Gardai and APO’s that he wanted the dictaphone sealed in an envelope and signed for. This request was refused.
The Gardai asked Aron, Conor and Niall for their names and addresses which they gave. They were then asked for their dates of birth which they did not give as they were under no obligation to do so. Sgt Condren then told them that they were being arrested and would be brought to Shannon Garda Station until their identities could be verified. Sgt Condren was asked whether or not he believed he had been given false names and addresses, a question he did not answer, but to which he replied ‘You may have’. Niall and Conor asked for their bags and were asked to account for their property before they could leave. Niall produced a Swiss army knife among other things and told Sgt Condren that he had brought it to cut the rope used to tie the banners. Despite volunteering the knife and explaining it’s use to Garda Condren, Niall was told he was being arrested under the ‘Offensive Weapons Act’. Niall and Conor were taken to Shannon Garda Station and Aron was told he was free to go.
Meanwhile St John and Mags, who had been outside filming and taking photographs, came in to the terminal to the Airport Police Office to find out what had happened to Aron, Conor and Niall. They were instructed to leave the terminal and to wait outside until a Garda could come and answer their questions. After a few minutes APO Sgt Brian Casey arrived with a number of APO’s who all became aggressive and started shouting at Mags and St John demanding to see photos and cameras. When they asked the officers to identify themselves and explain the reasons why they wanted to see the cameras, they were accused of ‘refusing to comply’ and their bags and cameras were taken from them. Mags and St John were then asked for their names and addresses which they gave and were told they were being detained to Shannon Garda Station until their identities could be verified.
All four were held in custody at Shannon Garda Station and charged under Section 33 of the Air, Transport & Navigation Act. Conor and Niall were charged with ‘obstructing an authorised officer in the exercise of his powers’ and Mags and St John were charge with ‘failing to comply fail with a lawful requirement of an authorised officer by not giving proof of identity when demanded so by him’.
At this point it is important to point out that the same Air, Transport & Navigation Act regulations state that: An authorised officer is not entitled to exercise a power in relation to a person unless the authorised officer first shows the person his or her identity card.
Conor, Niall, Mags & St John were held in custody overnight at Shannon Garda Station before being brought to a special sitting of Shannon District Court, Ennis at 11am.
Strict bail conditions were sought by Prosecutor for the State, Inspector Tom Kennedy who asked of the four defendants:
- that they reside at the addresses given at time of arrest.
- that they sign on at their local Garda Station every day between 4pm and 6pm.
- that they are excluded from Shannon Airport and their environs, as they have no business being there. They are not employed there.
- that the state has liberty to re-enter the charges at 24 hours notice.
Judge Joseph Mangan asked “Why does the State feel that these restrictions are required?”
Inspector Kennedy replied: “It's eh, because... IT’S A CONTROL MECHANISM FOR THE STATE, … TO MONITOR THEIR ACTIVITIES AND MOVEMENTS.” !!!
In an unexpected twist and a first for Judge Joseph Mangan, he granted minimal bail conditions saying he did not want to deprive the defendants of their rights to protest at Shannon Airport.
Six months later, following instructions from the DPP, the charges against all four were dropped on March 9th 2005.
IN CONCLUSION …
Conor Cregan, Niall Harnett, Mags Liddy and St John Ó’Donnabháin were exercising their constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and protest at Shannon Airport when they were assaulted, intimidated and harassed by Airport Police and Gardai. Their property was stolen and damaged and evidence was destroyed in the process. They were detained for one offence, arrested for another and charged with a different offence altogether. They were held overnight where the ‘member in charge’ Garda Pat Clarke deliberately failed to observe the statutory regulations provided for them. The State Prosecutor Insp. Tom Kennedy abused his position in court in ‘alleging’ possession of an offensive weapon, where no charge had been brought and at which stage he was unaware of the full facts but aware of the presence of journalists in the court, one of whom, Gordon Deegan, chose to ignore the real facts of the case but used Inspector Kennedy’s ‘offensive weapon’ remark to superficially sensationalise their court appearance in the press. Legal aid Solicitor Ted Mc Carthy, Limerick, ‘representing’ Niall, Mags and St John, refused to meet with them, communicate with them or even turn up in court for them on a subsequent court date. Niall, Mags and St John were forced to dispense with the ‘non-service’ of Ted Mc Carthy, ordering in court that he be struck from their records. Niall went on to defend himself in court while Mags and St John had to seek fresh legal assistance from another solicitor. Many applications made to the court by the defendants, especially Conor who represented himself from the start, were refused a hearing by Judge Mangan, resulting in arguments in court and defendants being threatened with contempt. On more than one occasion the Gardai were instructed to use ‘all reasonable force’ to remove Conor from the court room.
Despite being hindered and obstructed at every turn, the defendants sought to communicate with and question the courts service, the DPP, the Gardai and the judge on a whole range of legal matters in order to equip themselves with all the information and evidence required to defend themselves in court. Some evidence was disclosed under the ‘Gary Doyle’ order, but on the whole the defendants found the whole courts system to be uncooperative and obstructive despite commitments in the ‘Courts Service Customer Charter’ to ‘conduct our business to the highest standards of ethical and professional behaviour in an atmosphere of mutual respect and integrity‘. Conor, Niall, Mags and St John were bullied at every turn by all involved in this ‘system of justice’ but continued to fight their corners at every opportunity. Finally, the system backed off and withdrew the charges knowing that if they continued with this charade, their case against the defendants and their lies in written statements would not stand up to interrogation in court and they would be exposed for being the incompetent bullies that they are. I suppose they thought the defendants might plead guilty, though I don’t know where they got that idea. Criminal Complaints have also been made by defendants against Gardai & Airport Police on account of their behaviour. The four are also considering further legal options.
Na Cosantóirí Síochána and other peace activists continue to push further at Shannon in exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and legitimate protest. See http://www.indymedia.ie/article/74933 , http://www.indymedia.ie/article/73753 , http://www.indymedia.ie/article/73722 , http://www.indymedia.ie/article/73714 & http://www.indymedia.ie/article/72376 .
If I was a Garda, I’d be organising with the few fellow Gardai who are interested in justice, to arrest George Bush the next time he sets foot on Irish soil (be smart about it and make sure to have media with you). And I’d be standing up to any other bullies in An Garda Síochána bent on the continued harassment of peace activists. Then I could call myself a guardian of the peace.
Boys and girls in blue … are there none among you with initiative or guts?
… and paying a small price.