They had lawful excuse for entering airport and damaging runway
Dave Donnellan and Colm Roddy, both with addresses in Dublin, attempted to get Shannon personnel to search a US plane for arms in 2916 and were charged with criminal damage. A jury has found them not guilty. The following report is based on sources (listed below). Due to the pandemic I was unable to attend
After four years five months and eighteen days, the trials of peace activists Colm Roddy and Dave Donnellan have ended with a Not Guilty verdict by a jury in the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin. They had been charged with criminal damage to a fence and runway without lawful excuse, at Shannon airport on 5 May 2016. Both Dave and Colm pleaded not guilty. On Friday last, eleven men and one woman took less than two hours to give their verdict.
They have been in various courts some 36 days since the day of their action. The years, months and days have been punctuated with some bizarre episodes both inside and outside of court. They had been banned from the whole of Co Clare at a court in Gort, Co Galway.. They were both re-arrested on 18 November 2018 near the court room in Ennis to bring "new charges" against them, based in part on an absurd change in the amount of damage from €300 to €3500 (for cutting a hole in the fence and painting some red crosses on the runway). Then, on that same day, the case against Colm was dismissed. This decision was reversed by the same judge on another day. And almost 4 years later a jury in Dublin. in effect. has dismissed the State's action against both Colm and Dave. The net result apart from the dogged and unnecessary persecution of two very honourable citizens is enormous cost to the State, faces redder than the crosses that were painted on the runway. personal and lives disrupted - and the message of the two peace activists loudly proclaimed again and again, not least in their final addresses to the jury on Friday last.
Time after time, the Irish State had refused to search suspicious planes at Shannon, planes that activists from local groups such as Shannonwatch knew were carrying troops and arms to foreign wars. During the Iraq war debacle even rendition planes had, disgracefully, passed through Shannon; but Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil 'I looked at the great President Bush and I said to him, you know, 'I want to be sure to be sure' and he assured me". Even today, US planes are still carrying troops through Shannon airport to war. In the early morning of 5 May 2016, Dave and Colm did their long courageous walk (45mins) along the runway to a US Army Lear C-21 jet and requested its Irish minders, both military and police, to do a search of the aircraft.
They gave their reasons to the jury in their final addresses. Dave said that he believed his prosecution for allegedly cutting the fence shows “we have lost perspective on what's really important. I believe what's really important is life itself. The life we share with our loved ones and the life we share with people we don’t know; people in Iraq and Libya and Syria and all the other places affected by US-led wars. Their lives are as important as our own. That's what took me into Shannon airport four years ago."
Colm said that the US military has been using Shannon as an effective forward operating base for over 17 years and he has been protesting about this since then. Around 2.5 million US troops have transited through the airport on their way to wars; and taxpayers’ money is being used to pay overtime for army and garda officials to guard US military planes at the airport. Many of these US soldiers have come back in bits and in boxes and are as much victims as the people who die in the wars in countries in north Africa and the Middle East. “As a citizen of Ireland I'm made complicit in this destruction and torture. My actions show that I will not meekly allow the State to make me complicit in the murder. This is both a rational and reasonable position to hold.” he said. He believed his actions had lawful excuse by raising awareness of these issues.
Both Colm and Dave told the jury that their actions on the day were a protest against the use of Shannon airport by US military. They assert that the presence of US military planes and troops is a breach of Irish neutrality and has, according to international law, turned the airport into a legitimate target for enemy combatants of the US. Both told the jury that their actions on the day were a protest against the use of Shannon airport by US military, that the presence of US military planes and troops is a breach of Irish neutrality and has, according to international law, turned the airport into a legitimate target for enemy combatants of the US.
Earlier in the trial the State had produced several witnesses including Mark Reidy, maintenance manager at the airport who in reply to Colm said that the costs (€3500) were estimated because the programme of works was ongoing and that “that section of the fence has not been repaired yet”. He said a suggestion that “you've spent no money on repairing the fence” was correct.
Pat O'Brien of Airport Police in reply to Dave said that he had seen the Law of War manual of the US Department of Defence produced earlier in the week. He did not agree that the security at Shannon Airport was “laughable” (in the light of that document)
Corporal Thomas Dillon told the jury that he and other officers were on duty that night and were stationed beside a US plane. He told Mr McGillicuddy (prosecuting) that “we stay on the ground until the plane takes off” and remain for some time after take off in case the plane needs to return to the airport.
He said that when he first saw two men approaching the plane at around 6am “I thought my eyes were playing tricks” and he picked up binoculars to view the men. One was carrying a flag and banner the other a wooden cross. He said he warned both men to stop and that he and his colleagues had their weapons behind their backs at all times.
In reply to Colm's suggestion that “the purpose of the Irish armed forces at Shannon is to ensure that peace activists like myself and Mr Donnellan don’t get near the American planes you are guarding, to search or to damage [them]”, he replied that Colm needed to put this question to somebody in government
At the end of the trial, Judge Karen O'Connor, instructing the jury, said: “You must decide whether they (Dave and Colm) believed their actions to be justified. It does not matter if the belief is justified or not, as long as Mr Roddy and Mr Donnellan honestly hold the belief,”
When they returned the Not Guilty verdict, Judge O'Connor thanked them for diligently carrying out their duties especially in the midst of a pandemic and she graciously thanked the defendants (who are lay litigants) and their legal advisors, (Mc Kenzie Friends Seán Ryan and Raymond Walker) for their courtesy and dignity throughout the trial.
After the event, Dave Donnellan said: “Our actions were faith based. As Irish citizens we felt compelled as a matter of conscience to highlight Irish Government complicity in war crimes and it is a matter of deep regret to us that this complicity is still ongoing almost daily since 2001".
An equally modest and sobering comment came from Colm Roddy: “The result of this trial gives us no cause for celebration. Our peaceful non-violent actions in May 2016 were undertaken to highlight Irish complicity and participation in US wars in the Middle East that have caused the deaths of millions of people in the Middle East, including the deaths of up to one million children since the First Gulf War in 1991"
The decision of the jury rested eventually on whether or not they had lawful excuse under Irish law to carry out their action. They had.
Another interesting aspect of the case was the fact that the prosecution were not allowed to make a closing address to the jury because of a legal rule which applies when the defendant is a lay litigant and does not call any witnesses.
Sources: Declan Brennan (for Limerick Leader and Irish Times), Indymedia Ireland, Shannonwatch, Partners in Faith, Edward Horgan (email), The World News, court observers and others.