Ireland’s foreign-affairs minister assured the US ambassador in Dublin in 2006 that the Irish government was prepared to change the law that had allowed the acquittal of five anti-war activists for damaging a US Navy plane.
The revelation that a senior Irish official discussed possible amendments to domestic criminal law with the US ambassador is contained in a Wikileaks cable (see below) that has not been published or reported upon elsewhere, but which has been seen by Counterpunch.
At the time of the acquittal of the so-called Shannon Five, or Pitstop Ploughshares, in July 2006, the US embassy made a public statement expressing its disquiet about the verdict. The then foreign minister, Dermot Ahern, responded with what was seen as a firm public statement of his own, underlining the independence of the judicial system and stating that its verdicts were not a matter for discussion by government officials or between governments.
The cable reveals, however, that a few months later Ahern privately told US officials that the “the Irish Government Cabinet” had been greatly disturbed by the unanimous jury verdict. (The delay between the verdict and this meeting may have been caused by a change-over in US ambassadors.) Ahern told the Americans that the Cabinet had asked the justice minister, Michael McDowell, to examine how the Criminal Damage Act might be amended to close the “legal loophole” that allowed the Shannon Five to be acquitted, so that such a verdict could not happen again. A previously released cable from the same period quotes a senior foreign-affairs bureaucrat telling the Americans the verdict was “bizarre”.
The five, members of the Dublin Catholic Worker, were acquitted after a trial in which their lawyers relied on the statute’s defense of “lawful excuse” for defendants who damage property in the honest belief that doing so will protect life or property, as long as that belief is reasonable in the circumstances. The law does not explicitly require that the threat to life or property be “immediate”.
Justice minister McDowell, a notorious right-wing ideologue, lost his parliamentary seat and thus his government post in the election of May 2007, six months after Ahern told US officials McDowell would be seeking to change the law, which has remained unamended.
These November 2006 discussions of the legalities of the Shannon case are the latest in a series of Wikileaks revelations – some published last autumn, others being reported in Irish print and broadcast media this week – that show Irish officials at pains to help the US in its use of Shannon Airport for military purposes and, perhaps, CIA “extraordinary rendition” flights. Irish bureaucrats even asked US officials for their legal advice about why American planes at Shannon should not be inspected by police here, and said that such advice would be a guide for Irish policy.
Cables sent from the US embassy over a period of years show Irish officials specifically turning a blind eye to the possibility that rendition flights were landing in the west of this neutral country. Senior Irish politicians appear to have relied on vague assurances from US officials but repeatedly expressed concerns that they would be caught lying to the Irish parliament and people if a rendition flight were discovered at Shannon. In December 2004 Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern (no relation to Dermot) told the US ambassador that he had been saying publicly that there were no such flights, and pleaded: “Am I all right on this?”
American and Irish officials freely acknowledged that the US use of Shannon as a stopover for troops and military equipment was unpopular with the Irish public, especially when the issue of renditions arose, but discussed ways that they could cooperate on managing media and public relations. After the Green Party joined Ireland’s governing coalition in 2007, it insisted on the setting up of a Cabinet sub-committee on human-rights issues, including those raised by Shannon. A US embassy cable correctly identified the subcommittee as a “sop” to the Greens that would cause no trouble to the Americans.
Like many of the cables from around the world, the Dublin cables so far revealed through Wikileaks show US diplomats effectively united with their local counterparts against a common enemy: the people – whether the people take the form of anti-war activists, jurors or voters in an upcoming election. Cables consistently praise the Irish government for its efforts “in the face of public criticism” on behalf of the US in Shannon, described by ambassador James Kenny in 2004 as “a key transit point for U.S. troops and materiel bound for theatres in the war on terror”.
A cable written by Kenny in 2006 and published by Wikileaks late last year admits that ”the airport [is] a symbol of Irish complicity in perceived U.S. wrongdoing in the Gulf/Middle East” and that “popular sentiment was manifest in the July 25 jury decision to acquit the ‘Shannon Five,’ a group of anti-war protesters who damaged a U.S. naval aircraft at the airport in 2003.”
Some of the Wikileaks revelations have received prominent coverage in Ireland, notably in the Irish Independent and Belfast Telegraph newspapers, which have partnered with Wikileaks for a series of well displayed and heavily advertised stories this week. However, neither the newspapers nor state broadcaster RTE, which obtained several Shannon-related cables and reported on them on Thursday evening, have been publishing the cables, merely reporting on extracts, and not always even including the reports on their websites.
Wikileaks typically itself publishes cables on its own website once they have been reported upon and redacted by its media partners, but at the time of writing only 18 Dublin cables have appeared on the Wikileaks site this week, perhaps delayed because of the newspapers’ print-only policy with many of the stories. I calculate, conservatively, that at least 30 different Dublin cables have been quoted so far this week, but the number is uncertain because they have often been used without specific dates being cited. Neither the print nor broadcast journalists have seen fit to report on the cable discussed above, though I understand both RTE and the Irish Independent have it in their possession.
The Wikileaks revelations over the last year or so – from the Iraq and Afghan war logs to the diplomatic cables – have revealed a great deal about the operations of governments. They have also revealed some of the profound failings of the mainstream media, which, when they are not denouncing Julian Assange and ignoring Bradley Manning, can be found squabbling over the “exclusives” that those men’s efforts have apparently brought us. There is a long way to go, in Ireland and elsewhere, before this information is truly free.
Harry Browne lectures in journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology. He is the author of HammeredBytheIrish, a book about the Shannon Five case, published by CounterPunch / AK Press. Contact email@example.com
The Dublin Cables.
destination:VZCZCXRO8822 RR RUEHAG RUEHROV DE RUEHDL #1284/01 3071258 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 031258Z NOV 06 FM AMEMBASSY DUBLIN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7654 INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST 0476 RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DUBLIN 001284
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TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MARR, MOPS, PREF, EI
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR AND FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSS
SHANNON, NORTHERN IRELAND
REF: A. DUBLIN 1020
B. DUBLIN 1172
C. STATE 172627
DUBLIN 00001284 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Jonathan Benton; Reasons 1.4 (B)
1. (C) Summary. In a November 1 discussion, the Ambassador
and Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern did a tour d'horizon of key
bilateral issues. Ahern:
-- urged bilateral cooperation to avoid "surprises" regarding
U.S. military use of Shannon Airport;
-- noted that the Irish Cabinet had charged the Justice
Minister to review legal loopholes used by the Shannon Five
to avoid prosecution for damaging a U.S. naval plane in 2003;
-- said that he did not expect the Northern Ireland Assembly
to meet the November 24 deadline for nominating an Executive,
due to the impasse on oath/policing issues;
-- expressed disappointment with the failure of Northern
Ireland parties to engage directly on follow-through for the
St. Andrews Agreement; and,
-- observed that the Irish Government would continue to lobby
the USG to regularize the status of undocumented Irish
citizens resident in the United States.
2. (C) The Ambassador:
-- noted appreciation for U.S. military use of Shannon and
offered the USG's best efforts to avoid missteps;
-- emphasized the goal of preventing future actions by Irish
protestors to disrupt U.S. operations at Shannon;
-- underscored continued USG support for the Northern Ireland
-- expressed gratitude for the scheduled November 9
extradition of U.S. citizen Frederick Russell, but cautioned
that failure to act on other extradition requests could give
Ireland the image of a criminal haven; and,
-- observed that movement on Irish concerns about
undocumented citizens in the United States would be
difficult. End summary.
3. (C) In a November 1 introductory discussion with the
Ambassador, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern urged bilateral
cooperation to avoid "surprises" regarding U.S. military use
of Shannon Airport. Ahern recalled that the Irish Parliament
had required him to explain previous U.S. pre-notification
failures on Shannon transits involving weapons and U.S.
military prisoners. He was also scheduled to address the
European Parliament shortly on allegations that Ireland has
assisted in extraordinary rendition flights, which he planned
to rebuff on the basis of previous USG assurances on the
issue. Ahern conceded that the Irish Government was partly
to blame for missteps at Shannon, as the Department of
Transport had not previously sought full information on the
materiel/passengers in transit -- a shortcoming that Ireland
aimed to correct in the context of global terrorist threats.
The Ambassador expressed appreciation for U.S. military use
of Shannon, and he offered the USG's best efforts to avoid
missteps and to coordinate on any necessary media strategy.
Ahern noted that the Embassy's public outreach to explain the
June transit of a Marine prisoner had helped to diffuse
public criticism over the event.
4. (C) The Irish court decision to acquit five persons who
had damaged a U.S. naval plane at Shannon Airport in 2003
(the so-called "Shannon Five") had seriously disturbed the
Irish Government Cabinet, Ahern said (ref A). He explained
that while there were no means to overturn the jury decision,
the Cabinet had requested Minster for Justice Michael
McDowell to examine ways to close off legal loopholes
exploited by defense lawyers (who argued that the defendants
had sought to prevent loss of life in Iraq). The Ambassador
emphasized the goal of preventing future actions by Irish
citizens to disrupt U.S. military operations at Shannon.
Ahern replied that airport security had been upgraded
following the Shannon Five verdict and that the protest
movement appeared to be losing steam, as evident is a
sparsely attended October 28 rally at Shannon.
DUBLIN 00001284 002.2 OF 003
5. (C) Ahern said that he was "reasonably hopeful" about the
prospects for follow-through on the St. Andrews Agreement,
but he did not expect the Northern Assembly to meet by the
November 24 deadline to nominate the First Minister and
Deputy First Minister, given the impasse over the Executive
oath on policing. Ahern judged that unionists were
unreasonable to require a Sinn Fein pledge on policing before
the party as a whole had authorized this step. On the other
hand, Sinn Fein had been obstinate in declining to call a
party conference before November 24, observed Ahern. He
added that a further complication in negotiations was
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) reluctance to engage in
face-to-face discussions with Sinn Fein on the policing/oath
hurdle. This reluctance was a regression from late 2004,
when Sinn Fein and the DUP had substantive, direct contact in
pursuit of a devolution deal at that time. The Ambassador
underscored continuing USG willingness to support the peace
process in every possible capacity.
6. (C) The Irish Government had no illusions that progress
on policing as part of the negotiations would be "tortuous,"
Ahern observed. He recounted serious discrimination by the
former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) against nationalists
across the border from his home county of Louth. He also
took note of remarks by DUP leader Nigel Dodds and others
expressing reluctance to allow "former terrorists" within the
republican community to participate in policing and justice
structures. Ahern pointed out that the ill-fated 2004
agreement had pushed the policing issue off to the future and
that parties remained stalled on this point, although Sinn
Fein had shown progress on policing cooperation over the past
Other Key Issues
7. (C) The Ambassador and Ahern also discussed briefly the
A. Extradition. The expected November 9 extradition of U.S.
citizen Frederick Russell demonstrated Irish willingness to
work through U.S. extradition requests, said Ahern (ref B).
He observed that the Irish Government was precluded from
lobbying the Irish judiciary on extradition issues, making it
imperative for U.S. federal/state justice officials to
satisfy the courts' requests for thorough, uniform
documentation in such cases. He added that Ireland had been
innately reluctant to transfer criminal suspects to foreign
jurisdictions, particularly in the 1970-80s when republicans
involved in the Northern Ireland Troubles would cross the
border to evade British authorities. The Ambassador
expressed gratitude for Irish action on the Russell case, but
cautioned that failure to act on other extradition requests
could give Ireland the image of a criminal haven.
B. Undocumented Irish. According to Ahern, Irish officials
would continue to press the USG for measures to regularize
the status of up to 50,000 undocumented Irish resident in the
United States, while recognizing that this Irish segment was
part of a larger picture of illegal immigration. He said
that a recent proposal (floated by Irish parliamentarian Tom
Kitt) for a bilateral agreement that would ease mutual
entry/residence restrictions for Irish and U.S. nationals
deserved consideration. The Ambassador noted the
Administration's sensitivity to long-term undocumented U.S.
residents who were contributing to their communities, but he
added that the Congress seemed disinclined at the moment to
consider any form of amnesty.
C. Cuba. Ahern committed to discuss with Deputy Prime
Minister (Tanaiste) and Justice Minister, Michael McDowell,
the USG request for Ireland to resettle roughly 30 Cuban
migrants housed in Guantanamo who were determined by DHS to
have a well founded fear of persecution (ref C). Ahern noted
that Ireland had recently coordinated with UNHCR to accept
ten refugees resident in Malta, who had arrived as part of a
burgeoning flow of African migrants into southern EU Member
D. Lebanon. The Ambassador noted that 150 Irish troops had
arrived in Lebanon on October 30 as part of the expanded
UNIFIL force, and he expressed appreciation for Ireland's
contribution. Ahern replied that Ireland's experience in
UNIFIL and familiarity with local Lebanese communities had
obliged the Government to contribute troops, even though the
Taoiseach initially had opposed deployment in view of Irish
DUBLIN 00001284 003.2 OF 003
commitments to other UN peacekeeping operations.
E. IFI. The Irish Government, said Ahern, would lobby
Congress for continued U.S. support of the International Fund
for Ireland (IFI), which would help to advance the
generation-long process of community reconciliation in
Northern Ireland and Irish border counties. He cited
Ballymena in Northern Ireland as a community riven by
sectarianism, as seen in the recent murder of a Catholic
youth and the reluctance of local unionist politicians to
work with republican counterparts.
8. (SBU) In addition to Foreign Minister Ahern, Irish
participants included Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)
Secretary General Dermot Gallagher and the Minister's Special
Advisor, Ciaran O Cuinn. On the U.S. side, the DCM and
Pol/Econ Section Chief also took part.
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