Shannon accused carried pickaxe, hammers, court hears

Five antiwar protesters charged with damaging a United States of America aircraft at Shannon Airport in February 2003 were carrying a large pickaxe and several hammers with antiwar slogans inscribed on them, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.

Five antiwar protesters charged with damaging a United States of America aircraft at Shannon Airport in February 2003 were carrying a large pickaxe and several hammers with antiwar slogans inscribed on them, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.

"Put a stop to genocidal war", "War stops here", "The war ends here", "B52 swords into ploughshares", "The B-52 has killed and plans to kill children" were among slogans engraved on the implements along with ancient celtic emblems, the jury was told on day two of the trial.

The court also heard that one of the hammers was a six-foot long plastic inflatable "baloony thing" in the Irish Tricolour with the words "Hammered by the Irish" written on it.

Prosecuting counsel, Mr Conor Devally SC (with Mr Luan O Braonain BL), described it as an "object normally carried by patriotic football supporters".

A "shrine" arranged in a certain way composed of candles; candle holders; pictures purporting to depict children suffering from the previous war in Iraq and as a consequence of the sanctions against Iraq; rosary beads; Muslim prayer beads; a copy of the Bible; and a copy of the Koran were also found at the scene.

The five accused are Mr Damien Moran a student priest with the Holy Ghost Fathers in Dublin and Mr Ciaran O’Reilly an Australian, both working with homeless people and living at the same address on South Circular Road, Rialto; Ms Karen Fallon a Scottish marine biologist, also living on SCRd; Ms Nuin Dunlop, from the United States of America, a trained counsellor who lives in Dublin city centre; and Ms Deirdre Clancy, a copy editor, of The Spinnaker, Alverno, Clontarf.

They all plead not guilty to one count of damaging a US naval plane and to causing similar damage to two glass door panels at Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport on February 3, 2003

Sergeant Michael O’Connell of Shannon garda station, who was on protection duty of the aircraft on February 3, 2003, told Mr Devally that he was standing by the door of his car which was parked about 30-40 yards from the plane when he heard a loud bang.

At about 3.30am the five accused came running into the hangar "roaring and shouting". He was shocked and frightened and was unable to say for sure exactly what they were saying.

Sgt O’Connell told the jury of nine women and three men that he tried to stop them by putting his outstretched arms and body between them as they ran towards the aircraft. He momentarily lost his balance, however, and they charged ahead.

O’Reilly and Moran were leading the charge, followed by the three women. O’Reilly was carrying a pickaxe and Moran a hammer. He saw O’Reilly jumping up and hitting the nose of the aircraft several times as Moran hit another part of the plane with his hammer.

Sgt O’Connell said the three women were at the rear of the aircraft and all were using hammers, one of which was the plastic inflatable one. He pleaded and struggled with O’Reilly to stop and eventually he managed to take the pickaxe from him.

He was able to struggle with and similarly disarm Moran as he attacked the plane. He was also able to take the hammers from the three women. He put all the weapons and a can of paint which they had been carrying in a pile on the ground.

Sgt O’Connell said he had radioed for assistance before he began the struggle with the protesters and two other gardaí arrived in response to his call. By this stage the weapons were on the ground and the protesters were sitting in a circle saying prayers.

Pressed by Mr Hugh Hartnett SC (with Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha BL), defence counsel for O’Reilly and Moran, the witness agreed that even though he could not specifically say what the protesters were saying when they charged into the premises he heard them shouting something about God.

He also agreed with Mr Hartnett that O’Reilly had been "comforting" towards him. He said he could not remember the exact words O’Reilly said and he could not recall if what O’Reilly said was: "This is non-violent, we are going to stop the war, will you join us?"

He denied in cross-examination by Mr Brendan Nix SC (with Mr Michael Dreelan BL), for Fallon, that along with the two gardaí who arrived in response to his call for help, a naval officer "wearing some sort of US Navy uniform" also appeared on the scene.

Mr Nix put to Sgt O’Connell that the US Navy "fella, who ever he was, was carrying a sidearm on his right hip and was giving out to the Irish gardaí in a furious manner". "I never saw him there," Sgt O'Connell told Mr Nix.

Sgt O’Connell agreed with Mr Michael O’Higgins SC (with Ms Muireann Grogan BL), that all the protesters showed absolutely no malice towards him personally during the whole episode and they were always courteous towards gardaí.

He also agreed with Mr O’Higgins that it was strong and clear that the motivation of the protesters in going to the hangar was US President George Bush’s war on Iraq. He disagreed, however, that the protesters entered the hangar surreptitiously and quietly.

Mr O’Higgins suggested that the protesters would not have made as much noise as Sgt O’Connell claimed, as they had been expecting the aircraft to be heavily guarded, perhaps by US army personnel or armed gardaí, because it had been the subject of a previous attack.

Therefore, Mr O’Higgins said, they would have entered the hangar as quietly as possible being afraid of coming under attack. Sgt O’Connell denied the suggestions and maintained that they had entered "shouting and roaring".

He also denied that instead of being near his car he had, in fact, been sitting inside the car, listening to the radio and had only seen the protesters after they began attacking the plane.

US Aircraft Commander James Nicholas who arrived at the Shannon Airport on January 31, 2003 after the first attack on the aircraft a few days before, denied in cross-examination any knowledge of US troop movements through Shannon Airport.

When Mr Nix suggested that almost 90,000 US troops, half the number of the US troops deployed in Iraq, had been in transit through Shannon in the months leading up to the war, he replied: "I don’t know how many troops have been mobilised in Iraq."

Commander Nicholas also denied knowledge of the suggestion by Mr Nix that troops were being flown from Shannon to NAS Sigonella, the US military base on the island of Sicily, from where they flew onto Iraq.

He told Mr O’Higgins that the aircraft the protesters attacked was carrying only tyres and spare parts as well as its crew members.

Commander Nicholas replied "it might be so" when counsel suggested that it made no sense for the flight to come all the way from Fort Worth, Texas to Shannon empty and then return empty.

He also agreed that "one might say" it would be logical that the aircraft might be filled with personnel or cargo at Sigonella before going to another destination.

He said he did not know where the flight replacing the damaged one at Shannon had flown to. He did not ask his colleagues and as far as he knew "it just took off".

The hearing continues before Judge Frank O’Donnell.

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