Plane-damage protestors 'acting in defence of others'

The five anti-war protestors accused of criminally damaging a United States naval aeroplane will say they acted in defence of others, a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury has heard.

The five anti-war protestors accused of criminally damaging a United States naval aeroplane will say they acted in defence of others, a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury has heard.

The implements used to damage the plane were engraved with Celtic symbols and slogans such as: "If they come for the innocent without stepping over your body, cursed be your religion and your life", "The war ends here" and "Put a stop to genocidal war".

Mr Conor Devally SC, prosecuting, said, in opening the case that there was "no huge issue" on the facts of the case but rather whether the five felt they had "lawful excuse".

All accused have 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 on February 3, 2003.

The jury heard that the plane was a C40 or 737 aeroplane, which could convey cargo and personnel, and had earlier arrived at Shannon from Fort Worth in Texas.

The five accused are Damien Moran and Ciaran O’Reilly, both living on South Circular Road, Rialto, Dublin, and working with homeless people; Nuin Dunlop, a US citizen and counsellor living on Walkinstown Road, Dublin 12; Karen Fallon, a Scottish marine biologist living on South Circular Road, Rialto; and Deidre Clancy, a copy editor from Castle Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin.

Sergeant Michael O’Connell told Mr Devally that he was on security duty at a maintenance hangar in Shannon Airport, which housed the US Navy aircraft.

At around 3.45am he heard glass break and then saw five people, one with a large axe and the others with hammers, enter the hangar. He ran towards them and shouted: "Stop."

Sgt O’Connell said he held his arms out but the five ran around him to the plane. He "pleaded with them to stop" and called Shannon Garda Station for urgent assistance.

Sgt O’Connell said he was "terrorised by their appearance" and heard them say words that might have included "God".

Ciaran O’Reilly was "belting an axe into the front nose cone of the plane" as Damien Moran hit the side engine cover with a hammer.

The three women were at the back of the plane hitting the exhaust pipe and an image of the Texas flag with three lump hammers as well as an inflatable tricolour hammer.

Sgt O’Connell said he struggled with both men and managed to take their weapons from them. They offered no further resistance. The women handed over their hammers and all five knelt in a circle to recite the rosary.

Sgt O’Connell agreed with Mr Michael O’Higgins SC, defending Dunlop and Clancy, that the five were "polite and co-operative" and showed no malice.

"They came in to disarm the plane," said Mr O’Higgins, to which Sgt O’Connell replied: "I say they came in to cause criminal damage."

Items including copies of the Bible and Koran, rosary beads, Muslim prayer beads and photographs purporting to depict the effects on children of the previous war in Iraq were found forming a "shrine" at the side of the plane.

US Aircraft Commander James Nichols, who arrived in Ireland on the plane before the damage was done, agreed with Mr Roderick O’Hanlon SC, defending Moran and O’Reilly, that it was unable to fly safely following the incident.

Commander Nichols said he was unaware of the aircraft’s mission following its stop in Shannon but then agreed with Mr O’Hanlon that he was aware from an earlier trial that the plane’s original mission was to fly to NAS Sigonella, a US military base on the island of Sicily.

Asked if he was aware that in the months leading up to the declaration of war on Iraq a substantial number of US troops were moved through Shannon via Sicily into the Middle East, Commander Nichols said: "I have no first-hand knowledge, but it stands to reason, yes".

Detective Garda John Duffy of Ennis Garda Station told Mr Brendan Nix SC, defending Fallon, that, to the best of his knowledge, no US military planes were checked at Shannon Airport "by the police or army of the Republic of Ireland".

Mr Nix referred to aircraft at Shannon as "war planes" under the control of the "Commander in Chief George W Bush" and asked Det Gda Duffy if he had ever seen Gulf Stream jets at Shannon, which were rumoured by the press to contain prisoners en route to Guantanamo Bay.

Det Gda Duffy said he had never seen such aircraft but when further pressed on whether he had "ever taken a drink" and heard "gossip" Mr Devally objected to this line of cross-examination.

Mr Nix told Mr Devally to "shut up and sit down" and said the "war" and the "use of our country" was relevant to this case.

The hearing continues before Judge Donagh McDonagh and a jury of five men and seven women.

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