Irish Work to Halt U.S. Military Flights

By Caroline Hurley, LA Progressive, January 30, 2023

After a long delay, and several false starts requiring attendance at 25 pretrial hearings, Dr Edward Horgan, former army Commandant and United Nations peacekeeper, and Dan Dowling, both Kerry natives, faced trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for their peace activism. The trial ran from 11th to 25th January 2023 and ended with their acquittal on the charge of Criminal Damage.

Both members of Shannon Watch, which opposes military use of Shannon Airport, the defendants represented themselves, supported by McKenzie friends, in this protracted quest for justice.

Since 2001, well over three million armed US soldiers and unknown quantities of weapons, munitions and other military hardware have been transported through Shannon, mainly to and from the Middle East, where the US has been involved as a belligerent in several wars including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, as well as providing active support for the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen, and Israeli aggression and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. US military use of Shannon airport is in clear contravention of international laws on neutrality as well as arguably making the Irish Government complicit in breaches of the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions on War.

The incident in question occurred at Shannon Airport five years and nine months earlier, on 25th April 2017, resulting in two charges. The first alleged offence was trespass at the airport contrary to Section 11 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 as amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2008. The second was criminal damage by writing graffiti on a US Navy aircraft contrary to Section 2(1) Criminal Damage Act, 1991.

Speaking ahead of the trial, a Shannonwatch spokesperson said “This case is not just about the technicalities of breaches of international laws, even though these are important. The Criminal Justice (UN Convention Against Torture) Act 2000 brings the UN Convention Against Torture into Irish criminal law, and the Geneva Conventions (Amendments) Act 1998 also brings the Geneva Conventions within the scope of Irish law.”

“More seriously however, is the reality that up to five million people have lost their lives due to war-related reasons across the Middle East since the early 1990s. Shockingly, it is now estimated that one million children may have lost their lives due to these unjustified wars.”

When Edward Horgan was arrested at Shannon Airport on 25th April 2017, he handed a folder to the arresting Garda officer. It contained the names of up 1,000 children who had died in the Middle East.

Millions of people are being criminally killed in illegal wars that should never occur. At least one million children have died due to war related reasons across the wider Middle East since 1990. These children deserve the same safe environment as is enjoyed by war-free children.

Besides asserting these overarching principles, the Defence applied to have the cases against them dismissed on a variety of technical grounds including: coaching or collaborating of prosecution witnesses, issues concerning the legality of the Aid to the Civil Power regulations, legislation under which the Irish Defence Forces Personnel and members of an Garda Siochana were operating at Shannon Airport on 25th April 2017, unjustified handcuffing of defendants during and after arrest, undue delay of five years and nine months in bringing case to trial, failure to prove ownership and details of any alleged damage of the US Navy aircraft involved, failure of prosecution to prove that defendants were trespassing, failure of prosecution to produce pilot of the US Navy aircraft who was included in the book of evidence, and failure to prove that the US Navy aircraft that was at Shannon Airport on 25th April 2017 had permission to be at Shannon Airport due to its being on a military operation or military exercise.

A Detective Sergeant had already testified that the graffiti had resulted in no monetary costs. Most if not all the markings had been wiped off the aircraft before it took off again for the Middle East. The words “Danger Danger Do Not Fly” had been written with a red marker on the engine of one of two US Navy aircraft that arrived from Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia and spent two overnights at Shannon before flying on to a US air base in the Persian Gulf.

These applications were challenged by the state prosecution and then ruled out by the Judge. What remained was for the defence to make closing statements, and for the Judge to sum up and to instruct the Jury.

Speaking after the trial, a Shannonwatch spokesperson said “Over three million armed US troops have transited through Shannon Airport since 2001 on their way to illegal wars in the Middle East. This is in violation of Irish neutrality and international laws on neutrality.”

The CIA’s use of Shannon Airport to facilitate its extraordinary rendition program that resulted in the torture of hundreds of prisoners was confirmed in court. Edward Horgan gave evidence that US military and CIA use of Shannon were in breach of Irish laws including the Geneva Conventions (Amendments) Act, 1998, and the Criminal Justice (UN Convention Against Torture) Act, 2000. In contrast with at least 38 prosecutions of peace activists since 2001, no prosecutions or proper investigations had taken place for breaches of the above-mentioned Irish legislation.

In court, Edward Horgan read from the 34-page folder, containing the names of about 1,000 children who have died in the Middle East, which he had carried into the airport to show why they had entered. It was part of a project called Naming the Children which he and other peace activists were undertaking in order to document and list as many as possible of the up to one million children who had died as a result of US and NATO led wars in the Middle East since the first Gulf War in 1991.

Ten children had been killed shortly before their 2017 peace action, when newly elected US President Trump ordered a US Navy Seals special forces attack on a Yemeni village, which killed up to 30 people on 29th January 2017 including Nawar al Awlaki, whose father and brother had been killed in earlier US drone strikes in Yemen.

Also listed in the folder were the 547 Palestinian children killed in the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza. The names of four sets of twin children killed were read out. The terrorist suicide bombing attack carried out near Aleppo on 15th April 2017, in which at least 80 children were killed in horrific circumstances, also motivated Edward and Dan to undertake their peace action ten days later on the basis that they had a lawful excuse to try to prevent the use of Shannon Airport in such atrocities and thereby to protect the lives of some of the people especially children being killed in the Middle East.

The Jury of eight men and four women accepted their arguments that they acted with lawful excuse. Judge Martina Baxter gave the defendants the benefit of the Probation Act on the charge of Trespass, on condition that they agree to be Bound to the Peace for 12 months and make a significant donation to a Co Clare Charity.

Meanwhile, during the trial in Dublin, Ireland’s support for ongoing US wars in the Middle East was continuing back at militarily misused Shannon Airport. On Monday 23 January, a large US military C17 Globemaster aircraft registration number 07-7183 was refuelled at Shannon Airport having come from McGuire Air base in New Jersey. It then travelled on to an airbase in Jordan on Tuesday with a refuelling stop at Cairo.

The struggle for a law-abiding rights-based world beyond war continues.


Having worked in Irish health administration for 20 years, Caroline Hurley is about to move to an ecovillage in Tipperary. A member of World Beyond War, her articles and reviews have appeared in various outlets including Arena (Au), Books IrelandVillage MagazineDublin Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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