Two Week Suspended Sentence for Margaretta D'Arcy and Niall Farrell's Anti-war Action at Shannon

Report by Tim Hourigan and Sarah Clancy

An airport police officer asks Niall and Margaretta to leave the runway on Sept 1st 2013

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in Ennis District Court, Margaretta D'Arcy and Niall Farrell received a 2 week suspended sentence from Judge Patrick Durcan, following their conviction for 'interfering with the proper use of an airport'. On September 1st 2013 both peace activists had carried out a protest by going onto the runway at Shannon Airport wearing bright orange 'Gitmo suits' and carrying placards that detailed their objection to a prospective invasion of Syria. They were then detained by the Airport Police and handed over to the Gardai who arrested and charged them under (4.1 (14) of the Airport Byelaws (1994).

Since the conclusion of the case, Ireland's state broadcaster and our national print media have reported the sentence handed down to the activists and distributed a few selected quotes from the case. There has been no attention paid as yet to the highly important testiomony and evidence of the extreme misuse of Shannon Airport by the US Military facilitated by a series of Irish governments that was presented in Ennis Courtroom on Tuesday. This article aims to summarise the day's events so that they do not pass unnoticed.

The case was listed first in the court running order but was put back until the afternoon.  Inspector Tom Kennedy, prosecuting for the DPP, estimated that the case might take 2 hours. In fact it took more than twice that long; the prosecution presented 6 witnesses; 2 Gardai, 4 airport staff including the duty manager and members of airport police and fire service. A statement from the Shannon Air Traffic Controller Paddy Sexton, who wasn't in court was also read into evidence.

The prosecution's witnesses were all in approximate agreement about the sequence of events that had happened on September 1st 2013, and under questioning from the prosecution made the case that D'Arcy and Farrell had illegally entered the restricted area known as  'airside' in Shannon Airport and had been detained by the airport police and handed over to two members of the Gardai. All witnesses concurred that in fact no delays or disruption had occurred as a result of the actions of D'Arcy and Farrell, as quoted from Sexton's statement 'There was no impact on airport operations. The next aircraft landed as scheduled at 16:10'

Under cross examination of the prosecution's witnesses by both defence teams, four issues arose.

Firstly D'Arcy and Barrister Mark Nicholas acting for Niall Farrell, asserted that the arrest itself had been conducted illegally by the Gardai, who both defence teams asserted were acting beyond the powers conferred upon them by the particular legislation when they arrested D'Arcy and Farrell. Judge Durcan overruled this contention.

The second issue was the use of handcuffs by the arresting Gardai. Following a description by D'Arcy of her arrest and handcuffing Judge Durcan strongly criticised in particular the use of handcuffs by arresting Garda Anne Marie Spillane, in the context of the arrest of cooperative anti war protestors. He stated that the use of handcuffs was a severe overstepping of the mark and drew attention to several previous cases (Fennelly etc) where it had been deemed unlawfull to use handcuffs depending on the context and the demeanor of those being detained. He also directed the prosecution to take note of PG 194 of the Garda Siochana Guide which he said, relying on British case law, also decreed that the lowest possible level of force or restraint possible should be used in such situations.

The third issue which arose under questioning of each witness by D'Arcy was how the 'proper use' of the airport could be defined. No witness provided a satisfactory answer to this question and Judge Durcan intervened several times to direct D'Arcy to restrict her line of questioning to the events of the day in question. This particular issue is one of huge importance to all of those opposed to the use of Shannon Airport for the purposes of aggressive warfare and so we provide an example of some of this line of questioning here:

Airport Police Inspector Patrick O'Neill witness for the prosecution, cross examination by Margaretta D'Arcy

D'Arcy: Were you surprised to see D'Arcy and Farrell on the Runway?

O'Neill : Yes any day I would be surprised to find people on the runway.

D'Arcy: Did you know that anti war protestors had been on the runway previously?

O'Neill : Yes I did.  

D'Arcy: Were you aware that there was a high profile build up to war in Syria at the time of this incursion and that for example the British house of commons had voted against participation in it?

O'Neill: No I wasn't. [That was outside his brief]

D'Arcy: Have you ever inspected US Military planes?

O'Neill: No I haven't.

D'Arcy: Are you aware that four days after we went onto the  runway that a US Military plane - a US Airforce Hercules had landed illegally? Did you arrest the pilot under Section 33 of the Air Transport and Navigation Act?

O'Neill: No [to both questions]

D'Arcy:  Is there one set of rules to apply to people trying to stop bombing, and another set of rules for people doing the bombing?

O'Neill: I don't understand the question

Judge Durcan intervened at that stage to advise D'Arcy that she could raise such things later in evidence (if she wished to give evidence).

The fourth issue that arose was whether the defendants had interfered with the running of the airport.

Barrister Nicholas contested that even disregarding his questions as to whether the detention of both activists was itself legal, and the contentious question of what was the definition of the proper use of the airport, that in fact the evidence given by all witnesses for the prosecution indicated that there had not been any interference with the proper use of the airport as all prosecution witnesses had said that the actions of the protestors had had no impact.  Inspector Tom Kennedy strenuously denied that this was a valid argument, insisting that the defendants had been prevented from 'achieving their objectives' disrupting or interfering with the use of the airport only by the actions of its own security forces. The judge upheld Inspector Kennedy's assertion and stated that the defendants had a case to answer. He did however challenge Inspector Kennedy as to the 'objectives' of D'Arcy and Farrell; he gave his opinion that by gaining access to the runways they had achieved their objectives rather than having a further intention.

One further point of interest that arose in during the prosecution's case was a discrepancy in the evidence given by two of its witnesses in relation to whether or not there are US military personnel stationed permanently at Shannon.

The first witness for the prosecution Airport Police Officer Peter Flannery under questioning from Barrister Mark Nicholas said that he would agree that there is a permanent US Military Representative stationed at Shannon Airport,

The fourth witness, Mr Ray Pyne, who was the airport duty manager on duty at the time of the incursion was asked by D'Arcy if he discussed the possibility of protestors on the runway with the two US military reps stationed at Shannon.

Mr. Pyne denied that they were any US military reps currently stationed at Shannon, and said that if there were he wouldn't personally deal with them.

Later that afternoon during the defence case;  Dr Tom Clonan stated for the record that there is a permanent US Military liason office at Shannon and that he had telephoned there that morning just to be certain. He said he knows the senior liaison by name, but wouldn't disclose it in court due to security concerns. He said that it was a Lt. Col who reported directly to the US military base in Stuttgart and was not accountable to the airport or Irish authorities.

The Case for the Defence

Whilst neither activist contested the main facts of the case the accusation that they had interfered with the 'proper use' of the airport was strenuously challenged by Magaretta D'Arcy, acting for herself, who fielded five witnesses. (Clare Daly TD, Dr. Tom Clonan Former Irish Army Captain and Irish Times security analyst, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Dr. John Lannon and retired Army Commandant Dr. Edward Horgan both of Shannonwatch).

The defence witnesses gave expert, credible and passionate evidence as to what Shannon Airport is, in fact, habitually used for, as a 'virtual forward operating base' for the US Military. Three of the defence witnesses also detailed their extensive efforts to date, to use all the national and international legal, diplomatic and parliamentary means available to them to draw attention to and prevent the use of the airport for the purposes of aggressive warfare, for the transport of weapons or for enabling the kidnap and transfer of prisoners in contravention of their human rights through the airport. 

The summary of the defence witnesses' testimony is as follows:

Margaretta and Niall with Clare Daly TD outside the court in Ennis

Clare Daly TD gave specific and recent examples of her efforts to raise the issue and cause action to be taken to investigate and prevent the illegal use of Shannon in the Dail through parliamentary questions and contributions to debates. She said that all of these efforts had been to no avail 'she had failed in her efforts as a legislator to gain information as to what is going on in Shannon. Therefore that she was completely supportive of the actions of D'Arcy and Farrell in trying to raise the issue through other means and that their actions were in pursuit of the greater good.

Dr Tom Clonan used his direct personal experience to explain firstly that Shannon Airport is what is known as a Virtual Forward Operating Base for the US military and that as such 2.25 million troops have passed through the airport at a direct cost to the Irish taxpayer, which means that the Irish Taxpayer is subsidising the actions carried out by the US Military. He said that by the law of averages on the day of the action taken by Farrell and D'Arcy that approximately 200 troops must have passed through Shannon. (In 2013 70,000 US troops passed through the airport). He said that international perception of Ireland's status as a neutral state was already damaged by the use of Shannon for such purposes. In example he cited his own conversation with Dr Ali Moqtad, during which the Hezbollah leader had referred to Co Clare and said that Ireland had no humanity when it allows its airport to be used to move arms from one place to another. He stated that Shannon Airport would be considered a soft target by international terrorists when even protestors could easily gain access to the runway and stated that this put the people of Ireland at risk. He further indicated his concern that the use of Shannon and the reputational damage incurred increases the risks faced by Irish Defence Forces peacekeeping in Lebanon.  He detailed that he had been on a planes I(Boeing 757) contracted to the US Military in Shannon as the only journalist to ever have interviewed US troops (Marines) there and that the marines had their personal weapons on board with them . He stated that it had been confirmed to him during his own trip to Guantanamo that Shannon was used at least for the refuelling of planes used to transfer 'human cargo' to US run sites such as Guantanamo, and that these 'human cargo' were often sedated. He summed up that whilst he does not necessarily share the political stance of many in the court room that it is his opinion that the above detailed activities do not represent a proper use of Shannon Airport.

Mairead Maguire spoke of her direct experience in Syria and Iraq. She told the court that UN resolution 1325 calls for the protection of civilians, that many many people have called for debate on this, and that the defendants had done what the Irish government should have done.

In answer to D'Arcy's question she said that yes Ireland is guilty of violating Human Rights and that we have participated directly in the bombing of Iraq Afghanistan and Libya and at the time of the actions taken by D'Arcy and Farrell it appeared that we were going to begin participating in the bombing of Syria. She reinforced this by stating that Ireland had helped to bomb Iraq back into the dark ages.

In closing she referred to Nuremberg and asserted that conscience is above all laws. She said

'the law of our own informed individual conscience is the highest law, above all national and international laws,  and individuals have a duty to follow their own conscience and do the right thing. '

John Lannon and Sarah Clancy present a copy of an Amnesty International report on renditions to Inspector Tom Kennedy at Shannon in 2009

Under questioning from D'Arcy, Dr John Lannon stated that Ireland has violated the UN Convention against torture (UNCAT) which forms part of Irish Law. As examples he cited the use in at least 7 documented cases of Shannon Aiport by aircraft then involved in the 'rendition' of named prisoners of the US military.

He stated that despite the best efforts of Shannonwatch, there has been no credible investigation into these activities and that the actions of Farrell and D'Arcy were hugely important in drawing attention to issues that the Gardai were not taking seriously. He described presenting the Gardai with a wheelbarrow full of evidence including 41 specific claims, regarding the cases detailed above and others and that depite this no credible inspections had taken place. He said that Shannonwatchs efforts continue including having presented as recently as last week to the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. He explained how current the concerns for the illegal use of Shannon were as follows:

"We know that the CIA use of Shannon continues and is recent. A suspected CIA jet, registered N997GA used in an attempt to capture NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came through Shannon airport this year'.  He stated that he considers all of the above as improper uses of Shannon Airport".

Edward Horgan, John Lannon and Niall Farrell present wheelbarrows of information about illegality at Shannon to the Gardai (March 2011)

The fifth witness Dr Edward Horgan detailed both his military experience and his experience as a health and safety expert. He drew attention to a whole variety of methods he has used to try to draw attention to the illegal use of Shannon Airport, up to and including personal submissions to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the court challenge Horgan V's the State. Under questioning from D'Arcy he itemised his fears of the danger being caused by the improper use of an unmodified civilian airport by aircrafts carrying weapons and munitions. He told the court that Shannon does not have the protective shields and screens that would minimise risk in the event of an explosion but rather has civilian structures with plate glass walls which would increase the damage done in any such incident.

He said that he was aware of prominent cases where US military flights had landed at Shannon with safety issues including a World Airways Cargo charter. In this case he said the Airport Police and Fire Service were refused access to the aircraft by the military crew handlers, despite the civilian pilot having reported smoke in the cabin. Dr. Horgan described this as a gross breach of regulations.  It was notable that the senior members of the Airport Police and Fire Service were still in court at this time, staring at the floor.

He concluded that it is his opinion that Farrell and D'Arcy were doing their duty as citizens of the state.

In cross examination Inspector Tom Kennedy restricted his questioning to asking whether each witness had been in Shannon Airport on the 1/9/13. All except Dr Horgan replied that they had not. He went on to ask Dr Horgan if D'Arcy and Farrell had permission to be on the runway and Horgan replied that they had the permission or even the duty as humans and citizens to prevent war crimes.

Summation and Verdict

Margaretta D'Arcy concluded by referring her membership of women in media and entertainment and their determination to act on the UN's Article 1325 which states that women must be involved in solving and all solutions to conflict. She said that she was acting according to UN1325 to end conflict and that she didn't care what the judge wanted to do, that he could jail her if she wanted for doing her duty as a woman and a citizen.  She asked how long it must be before the state recognises that it has committed crimes in Shannon and listed a variety of other cases ( blood contamination, magdalen laundries etc etc where the state had to be forced to admit it was in the wrong and acting illegally.

She concluded by saying 'I say 'STOP THE WAR! We shan't stand idle!'

Barrister for Niall Farrell, Mark Nicholas concluded by using a quote often attributed to Edmund Burke (the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing).  Other than commenting generally on the need for the action of his clients , their good standing and their cooperative and peaceful conduct.  He stated that in considering the case the issue was the law and that he was not satisfied that the case that his client had interfered with the proper running of the airport had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. He said it was unfair convict them on a supposition that they had been thwarted in their actions by the Airport police, but rather that they had carried out their intentions ,which he said were clearly to draw attention to all of the issues raised in this hearing. He contended that as they had not in fact impacted on the running of the airport that they had not been in breach of the particular act and article they had been charged with. He noted that perhaps there were other charges that would have been more appropriate for this case but that in fact the court was only there to deliberate on the exact charge at hand.

Inspector Tom Kennedy for the prosecution stated that he had proven the case and that people could not take it upon themselves to enter the restricted area of the airport and take a stroll down the runway.

In Judge Durcan's conclusion of the case before sentencing he opined that whilst he respected and was impressed by D'Arcy, and accepted that protests were necessary in a functioning democracy he insisted that these protests must take place within the law.

He also wondered publicly why the airport authorities waited to deal with these protests after the fact through the criminal courts rather than seek other remedies in advance through the civil courts. This was understood by those of us present as a recommendation that the airport authorities might seek injunctions through the civil courts.

He convicted both defendants as charged and gave some opinions on their respective conducting of their cases which seemed at that point irrelevant. Following this some confusion ensued as to how sentences served and bonds entered into previously by both defendants in respect of an earlier conviction for a similar offence affected the sentencing in this case.  Judge Durcan asked that his sentence for the current case should be viewed in the context of the previous sentence and he sentenced both defendants to a two week prison sentence, to be suspended if both defendants would sign a bond to stay away from the airport, plus a fine of €100 (going up to €250 if they didn't sign). The wording of the bond was not discussed.

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