The March 1st action at Shannon


If you were anywhere in Ireland in the last week of February you can't have missed the hype ahead of the March 1st direct action called at Shannon by the Grassroots Network Against the War (GNAW). Suddenly every politician, reporter and even bishop in the country was joining the queue to denounce the planned 'violent' protest. The morning before the protest irony died on its feet when Sinn Fein announce it was pulling out of the unrelated Irish Anti War Movement protest at the airport for fear of violence.

You probably missed all the reports in the paper after Saturday when the same people queued up to issue apologies to GNAW. Really they should have read the publically available GNAW plan for the day line two of which read; "This action will be an example of mass non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi's salt march."

On the day some 300 people braved the media hype and the attacks from other sections of the anti war movements to take part in the GNAW action. We marched up to the airport beneath white flags to find row after row of Gardai, dog units and tooled up riot cops waiting for us.

Arriving at the fence everyone linked arms and formed a long line. We then slowly walked forward until we came into contact with the line of Gardai. We had hoped that at this point we would massively outnumber them and be able to simply walk around them. They were obviously worried about this as well as their senior officer was quoted before the protest as saying that it would be impossible to guard 7km of perimeter with 500 men but they would try their best.

After some time we did however manage to catch the Gardai on the hop simply by walking sideways. This opened up a gap in their ranks. Seizing the opportunity people walked up to the fence or threw crude grappling hooks attached to ropes to the top of the fence and started to pull it down.

In the space of a couple of seconds the fence had started to peel off from the top and cops had come charging in, rugby tackling people to the ground, grabbing the ropes and generally shoving people around. Most of the 10 arrests made on the day happened around this point.

March 1st at Shannon was the last pre-war chance to stop refuelling there. I have little doubt that if other sections of the anti-war movements had argued against the media 'there will be violence' hype instead of repeating it then sufficient numbers of people would have taken part to simply walk around the Gardai as planned. The fence would have been removed and a thousand people or more would have entered the airport perimeter. That is not what happened so US war planes continue to use Shannon to refuel on their way to the war.

The anti-war movement needs to grow up fast. It is not the case that everyone needs to agree to do the same thing. It is the case that we need to respect the diversity of tactics argued by different groups rather then trying to undermine the actions of those we disagree with for political gain. US war planes can be driven out of Shannon but we need to work together to achieve this.

Andrew Flood


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This edition is No75 published in March 2003

Blood on your hands