The five walked free yesterday after a jury found them not guilty of criminal damage on the grounds of “lawful excuse” because they said they believed their actions would save lives by preventing the aeroplane being used in warfare.
The US, however, is unhappy with the outcome. A US Embassy spokesperson said last night: “The embassy is very disappointed with the verdict and will discuss the implications of the case with Irish Government officials once we have more information.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs would not comment on the case, stressing the independence of the courts, but it is expected the Government will come under pressure from the US on the issue of safeguards for military craft on Irish soil.
It was the second time a US aeroplane was attacked while on stopover at Shannon Airport. In 2004, peace activist Mary Kelly was convicted of an axe attack on an aircraft and received a suspended sentence.
Yesterday’s verdict ended a saga that began in February 2003 when the two men and three women from the Catholic Worker Movement entered the airport grounds and attacked the aircraft with hammers during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.
If convicted, they could have faced the maximum prison sentence of 10 years each.
It is not known yet if the US will launch a civil action against the protesters in an attempt to recoup the cost of the damage.
Shannon Airport said last night it was not responsible for the repairs. The Department of Transport said the State would not have to foot the bill.
One of the defendants, Damien Moran, 26, said the possibility of a civil action did not concern the protestors.
“The conscience of the Irish people as represented by the jury have fairly and squarely vindicated our action. It’s a very, very strong message to the Ahern Government that they have no popular mandate for allowing the militarisation of the country,” he said.
The group plan to continue their campaign against the use of Shannon for the transport of troops but Mr Moran stopped short of saying they would try to disable aircraft by force again.
“I’m just going to enjoy this acquittal and reflect on things for a while. After three and a half years on bail, it’s an amazing burden lifted off our shoulders,” he said.
Sinn Féin, the Green Party, Anti-War Ireland and the peace and justice group Afri were among those who welcomed the verdict.