Shannon war protesters trial collapses again

The trial of five antiwar protesters accused of criminal damage of a United States Navy plane at Shannon Airport has collapsed following a suggestion by the defence that the trial judge had attended the inauguration of George W Bush as US president.

Judge Donagh McDonagh told the jury that matters had arisen in its absence and he had "no option" but to withdraw the case from it.

It was day 10 of the trial and this is the second time the case has been withdrawn from a jury before it concluded.

Defence counsel had asked Judge McDonagh to confirm whether or not he had, as a barrister in the mid 1990s, attended a conference in Texas which involved a photo call with the then Governor Bush.

Counsel for the five accused also suggested that Judge McDonagh was invited to both of Mr Bush’s presidential inaugurations and attended the first in 2000.

Mr Roderick O’Hanlon SC told Judge McDonagh that matters had been brought to the attention of the defence team which could lead it to ask the judge to disqualify himself from handling the trial as they touched on issues relevant to the trial.

Mr Brendan Nix SC said it was not a question of "actual" bias but the "perception of bias".

Mr Michael O’Higgins SC said that the defence was simply asking whether their information was correct and would then take further instruction from their clients.

Mr O’Higgins said the defence was not attempting to argue that any decision made by Judge McDonagh had been affected by the information.

Mr O’Higgins said the defence believed that Judge McDonagh had attended a conference in Texas in the mid 1990s during which he was one of a group invited to a photocall with George W Bush.

He suggested Judge McDonagh was later invited to, and attended, the 2000 inauguration of Mr Bush as President and received a further invitation in 2004 which he did not accept.

Mr O’Higgins suggested that the invitation was "extended by Mr Tom Delay, who has had recent difficulties".

Mr O’Higgins mentioned the case of the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet from the UK to Chile. He said that, from memory, that case went to the House of Lords and a decision was made to extradite.

A successful application was later made to the British Home Secretary to set aside the decision as one of the judges was involved with a company affiliated to Amnesty International, a party which had made submissions in the case.

Mr O’Higgins said the trial process should "be seen to be untainted" and the "purity of the system must be to the fore".

"The personality of George W Bush is part of this trial whether one likes it or not," he added.

Judge McDonagh said that he would not "give detailed analysis" of his social history in open court and said that counsel could speak to him in the privacy of chambers.

"I do not intend to disclose every trip or conference: political, social or otherwise. It is not for publication to the world at large," said Judge McDonagh.

He said the information put forward by the defence was "half right, half wrong" and his social life was not "open to scrutiny".

Judge McDonagh then rose for around 15 minutes before returning to withdraw the case from the jury.

The trial was at its final stages and closing speeches had been expected to go ahead. The jury had earlier been told to bring an overnight bag to court in case they had to go overnight to a hotel. Legal argument had continued throughout Friday and yesterday morning.

Judge Frank O’Donnell also withdrew this case from a jury in March 2005 on what was to be day six of the trial. Both trials were attended by a large number of supporters of the accused.

The five pleaded not guilty to two counts each of causing damage without lawful excuse to a naval plane, property of the United States Government and to glass door panels, property of Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport, Clare on February 3, 2003.

They are Ciaron O’Reilly (aged 45), an Australian national and Damien Moran (aged 25) both of South Circular Road, Rialto; Nuin Dunlop (aged 34), a US citizen and counsellor living on Walkinstown Road, Dublin; Karen Fallon (aged 34), a Scottish marine biologist living on South Circular Road, Rialto; and Deirdre Clancy (aged 35), a copy editor of Castle Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin.

They have been remanded on continuing bail until Friday November 11, 2005 when it will be mentioned in Court 8 at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

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