Several US invasions ago, beginning with Afghanistan in 2001, transport aircraft chartered by the US military have shuttled almost 3 million troops through Shannon Airport. My youngest son and his gun truck company made the stopover trips through County Clare to the carnage in the Middle East twice, in 2003 and 2004; even disembarking for the terminal lounge in full battle dress while their aircraft was being refueled. There was never an attempt by the soldiers to hide this unwitting disregard for Irish neutrality. To my son’s knowledge there was never a search of the planes and his troops were armed to the teeth, in violation not only of the Irish constitution but also the Hague Convention restricting the movement of troops or munitions by neutral countries.
While not exactly hidden in plain sight to the anti-war movement this US-Hibernian troop movement received very little global attention until peace and human rights activists with Western Ireland’s Shannonwatch pushed back, monitoring, posting and publishing all US military movement and, yes, rendition flights and overflights into and over Shannon. While unchecked power tends to remain absolutely unchecked, opposition to this ongoing illegal military alliance is heating up. Dublin’s MEP Clare Daly has always been among its more vocal opponents. Responding to a regional poll denoting a growing resistance, she remarked, "A country with a policy of positive neutrality would not facilitate the massive, devastating displacement of tens of millions of people through wars whose only purpose is to keep the gears of the military-industrial complex oiled."
On June 6, former mayor of Galway and TD Catherine Connolly, after standing in solidarity with Shannon Airport activists, voiced her frustration in an interview, "We’re facilitating the murder and slaughter of innocent people…and Shannon, unfortunately, is an absolute integral part of that. On any given night there are more military aircraft or more civilian aircraft carrying military than there are ordinary flights. We’ve set up Shannon now to depend on our collusion with wars abroad."
This year on St. Patrick’s Day, two US veterans, longtime anti-war activists and Veterans For Peace members Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff, attempted to expose this clear breach of international law at Shannon by unfurling on the apron a large banner that read Respect Irish Neutrality, U.S. War Machine Out of Shannon Airport! As one would expect, my peace-vet friends were abruptly apprehended by airport security and Gardaí, and long story short, their passports were confiscated and they are still in Ireland awaiting trial for trespassing.
Conversely, in December 2010, Ken and Tarak and more than 130 other peace veterans were arrested at the Obama White House during an anti-war demonstration, amidst numerous banners and just as much righteous indignation. Cuffed, dragged through the snow to awaiting vans, and jailed, they were released in less than a day. Some were even given the option to return for trials, and did just that. Ken and Tarak, on the other hand, are unable to even appeal their bail conditions until their trial date is set, October in a best-case scenario.
While polls continue to show that six out of ten Irish oppose the Pentagon’s co-opting of County Clare, the Dáil seems content to permit Shannon Airport to remain square one for all US now and future wars.
In 2018 Patrick Smyth of The Irish Times wrote, "The trouble with the concept of ‘neutrality’ as an expression of a fundamental Irish foreign policy values is that it is loaded with contested political meaning and historical resonances above and beyond the simple desire to remain militarily non-aligned. Some of its subtext clearly resonates with national aspirations, notably a desire not to be complicit in great power or neo-imperialist military adventures."
Perhaps, but that was last year. The non-alignment ship has long sailed, along with a rich Irish tradition of resistance. Ireland is all in now, a player, and fully vested in the bloodshed of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and more. Only now its alliance with neo-imperialist havoc at Garrison Shannon is in full view.
Gene Marx is a Vietnam Veteran and Past National Board of Directors Secretary of Veterans for Peace. He is currently the Communications Coordinator for Bellingham’s VFP Chapter 111. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.