Blockade of Shannon warport

Dec 6 2003


December 6th saw the largest anti-war demonstration at Shannon airport since April of last year. Some 400 people took part in what the Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM) had advertised as a blockade of the airport. The blockade was supported by the Grassroots Network Against War. Recently released figures reveal 115,000 US troops passed through Shannon on the way to Iraq last year, confirming its central role in the US military supply chain.

I traveled down on the GNAW organized Dublin bus. We had made some elaborate plans for what we wanted to do but it turned out these were mostly not possible due to circumstances on the day. There was also one IAWM bus from Dublin and one bus organised by the UCD students unions. Buses also came from Galway and Cork.

The IAWM committee had been badly split in advance of the protest. One committee meeting had the tendency to overturn the decisions of the previous committee meeting as the Trotskyists sought to prevent any effective action being taken. These problems carried on into the day itself with one committee member * see correction Dominic Carroll reporting on indymedia that "Stewards on the IAWM bus from Dublin decided on the tactic for the day (disregarding previous decisions) and communicated what they considered a binding decision to buses from Cork and Galway. Open discussion at the assembly point prior to the protest was disallowed. As the event unfolded, decisions were woefully communicated and participants treated as no-line bit-part actors. The IAWM "leadership" (accompanied - willingly and in some cases unwillingly - by the majority of the stewards) attempted a de facto termination of the protest by leaving at about 5pm (a decision not communicated to most of those participating in the demo). The majority of the protestors began leaving Shannon at around 6.15pm onwards." In isolation this seems quite negative but in fact this split represented a major step forward from the position of March 1st and before when the IAWM opposed any form of direct action at Shannon.

[Correction from Dominic: I'm not on the IAWM steering committee. I was, however, co-opted onto the blockade organising committee, but this was made defunct some time ago when the IAWM steering committee decided to take full organising responsibility..]

Outside of Shannon we arrived at the by now standard Gardai checkpoint. The police had a new idea for the days harassment. This time they confiscated banner and flag poles and the sticks off placards. They also took plastic bottles of poster paint and a few pieces of waven pipe. We were told this was being done under the firearms act! On the Cork bus the Gardai had stolen about 1000 'release Fintan Lane' posters. All in all clearly an exercise designed to make us feel powerless.

Cops steal poles

On the Grassroots bus we heard that it had been announced on the IAWM Dublin bus that they would only try and blockade one of the two roads into the airport! This seemed a little pointless so that on our bus we decided if all else failed we would try and blockade the second road. We had also decided that when we arrived we would get out of the bus and the Lidl carpark (1 on map) as soon as possible. We hoped we might manage to move off before the Gardai realized what was happening and reach the roundabout onto the second of the two roads (7 on map).

Map of the ac tion

 

We formed up quickly (complete with flag poles and banner poles that the Gardai had failed to find at their checkpoint) and set off up the road. We had been joined by some GNAW people from the other buses but more were around the front of Lidl with the IAWM and so didn't find us until later.

GNAW at Shannon
Pic: GNAW sets off

Approaching the first roundabout (2) we saw that the were a lot of cops waiting for us, including about 24 riot police. This and a bit of careless map reading resulted in us charging off the road and into the forest/scrub to the left (3). A small group did however get past the Gardai at the roundabout and into the fields across the road before being surrounded. The one arrest on the day happened here. The blue line on the map roughly shows the main GNAW route on the day). It turned out the wood we had charged into also had drainage ditches dug through it, the larger ones of these were too big too easily cross and by the time we had managed to do this the IAWM march had set off down the road we emerged onto.

Gardai at Shannon roundabout
Pic: Police at 1st roundabout (3)

There were huge numbers of police present, they probably outnumbered the demonstrators. They had obviously decided to allow us to block off the road leading from 2 to 6 and concentrated on stopping us getting to the road from 7 to the industrial estate down which all the airport traffic was diverted. For most of the length these two roughly parallel roads are separated by thick scrub and/or multiple fences. But at 4 there appeared to be a track through the woods so as we got there we made a run for this. The police ran to close this gap but around a dozen people made it into the woods before running into a fence and so being caught up with and taken out again.

Pic: Into the woods with cops in pursuit

The road was barricaded by the police at 5 to stop us entering the airport. This was the point at which we expected to be stopped as there is a wide ditch/river running down to the Shannon which provides a handy defence line for them. Individual affinity groups went back up the road and attempted to find gaps in the police line. In a couple of cases they got most of the way to the second road before being surrounded and turned back. In at least one case people got all the way through and started to block the road with traffic cones etc before Gardai vans arrived and forced them back.

Gap in the hedge

Breakthough
Pic: Gap in the hedge and one of the breakthroughs returning

The IAWM had decided there was no point staying in the protest pen at 5 and headed back up the road. A couple of them came over to us and explained that they were heading back up to 2 to try and reach the roundabout at 7 and so block that second road. So we moved to the roundabout at 6 to prevent the roads there being re-opened if the IAWM were to succeed at 2.

There was a lot of standing around here until the Gardai made an attempt to drive a van through us. People decided to respond to this provocation by refusing to let the van pass and moved in front of us. The Gardai moved in to push us out of the way but failed to do so and eventually backed the van out again.

Meanwhile traffic started to come down the road (from what I gathered later some in the IAWM had started a sit down on the other road). We moved to block the three exists off the roundabout that this traffic was trying to use. The riot police moved in with the rest of the Gardai to try and move us but we did manage to stop about half of that cars getting through. After a short while the traffic stopped coming (presumably because the IAWM sit down had been cleared). We heard from an IAWM steward there that they were heading home.

Gardai blockade at (5) and (6)

We decided to head up towards the roundabout at 2 with the intention of moving towards 7 and see if the Gardai blocked off the main road as a result. It was now getting dark and a police helicopter with a spotlight was over us.

A pedestrian fly over bridge spanned the road, its approximate location is at 8 in the map. As usual with such bridges there was a long access ramp for wheelchairs, buggys and bikes and a short stairs. Two Gardai were at the bottom of the ramp and two more at the top to prevent us crossing over.

Release Fintan Lane riot cop
Pic: They didn't get all the posters

In a keystone cops movement two people vaulted over the railing at the bottom of the ramp behind the Gardai guarding it and started towards the top. The two Gardai at the bottom moved after them and the two Gardai at the top came down the ramp to intercept them. This of course left no one guarding the much shorter staircase to the top and half a dozen or more ran over, climbed up this and crossed the bridge, reaching the other road. More Gardai ran in at our end to prevent more joining them. One activist was pushed off the railings by one Gardai so that his head collided with another Guard behind him. This second cop started to scream that he had been assaulted leading to a long stand off as other activists surrounded them to prevent his arrest. Eventually the Gardai backed off after getting the activists name.

We waited around for a while until the half dozen activists who had made it over the bridge returned. I believe they had reached the other side and started to block the road before being surrounded and herded back onto the bridge.

Black blocing at Shannon

We then proceeded to head straight up the road to the roundabout at 2. As we got near this we observed that there were dozens of Gardai waiting for us there. We thought they might intend to try and pick people out of the crowd so we formed long lines with our arms linked across the road about 3 or 4 rows deep. We marched up to within about 20m of the Gardai line which had been re-enforced with a line of riot police. We stopped, recovered our breath and then with arms still linked ran up to and into the line of locked riot shields. This pushed the police line back a little opening up enough of a gap for us to squeeze through as a block to the left (the road towards Lidl and out bus).

 

Pics: Pushing back the riot police

In all probability the police line was just there to stop us trying to block the whole roundabout. After we had pushed through we stood facing the riot police for a few minutes and some people posed for their pictures in front of the interlocked shields. Then we moved off, more or less as a bloc ignoring the apparent provocation of an unguarded police van by the side of the road. Back at the Lidl carpark we mixed in with the shoppers before heading for our bus, and Dublin.

 

Pic: Posing for a snap, (these guys are not as intimidating as they want to be!)

On the bus back people generally felt that given the huge numbers of police and our relatively low numbers the day had gone all right from out point of view. A prolonged blockade was not possible in the circumstances but we had managed to significantly disrupt traffic into the airport at times and our very presence had forced the closure of the main road and the deployment of hundreds of police.

We had suffered only one arrest on the day (he was released in time for the bus) as well as the very odd arrest of the 'Black Pope' near the airport in the early morning. No details are known at this point about the arrest except that he had phoned the legal team to say he was trapped in his car by a large group of secret police (Special Branch) and that they were breaking a window to get him out. That evening he was charged with a motoring offence in Tullow court and released on 5 Euro bail. This would seem to underline that his arrest was simply the way of the Gardai 'removing' the main public organizer of the IAWM blockade.

The other positive feature was that the IAWM section had attempted a serious blockade, at least for a time. This confirms that the pro 'direct action' forces in the IAWM have managed to overcome in part the conservatism of the trotskyist leadership of it. On Saturday, the trots may have tried to avoid the IAWM moving beyond a token blockade (and they made up most of the IAWM stewards) but on the day they were forced to join in the IAWM sitdown blockade in order to retain any credibility. Ironically on the very road that they had previously told the Cork and Galway buses that the 'IAWM' had decided not to block!

IAWM stewards

This Shannon demonstration shows two things. First that the core of the Irish anti war movements has recovered in part from the post-March crash in numbers. And secondly that right across the board it is willing to adopt more militant tactics and is in a better position to implement them.

On Saturday the sheer level of policing (it was estimated 700 were present) prevented us from doing anything very effective. But our attempts to do so and the fact that we refused to be intimidated by the huge police mobilization left most people with a positive feeling from the day. The sort of feeling that is essential if we are to build larger actions in the future. This was something very different from the April 12th IAWM demonstration when led by a load of muppets chanting 'one solution, revolution' the march obediently funneled itself into a protest pen set back from the terminal and surrounded by Gardai.

On Saturday most people, including most of the IAWM who had turned up did so with the intention of taking part in a blockade. Dublin GNAW was a good deal better organized then it had been for many of the previous demonstratioshannonAPR.htmlns and communications with those sections of the IAWM who want to take action against the war have been improved. We may have been out numbered but despite this we still made a few good attempts at the blockade and people were not intimidated by the huge police presence.

Saturday provides ground to build for into the future. For the moment the numbers prepared to protest remain low but the proportion willing to take action has grown greatly. A re-alignment is happening in the anti-war movements on this basis. With the nature of the occupation of Iraq becoming clearer the possibility is there not just for a recovery in the number of protesters but also for far more being willing to take the sort of militant action that can end Irelands support for the war effort.

Joe Black

Useful links

Riot cop stare
Pic: Still trying to look hard!


[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.


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