From top: US Army plane refueling at Shannon in July; Mick Wallace and Clare Daly; Dr Julien Mercille
Since 2002, 2.5 million US troops have transited through Shannon. But highlight the government’s complicity in the “war on terror” and you could find find yourself jailed..
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
We can plausibly imagine the following question on the exam Gardaí pass to join the police forces:
“Question: One Minister authorises the passage of 450,000 US military troops through Shannon airport on their way to criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, two TDs try to close Shannon airport to the US military to prevent Irish State complicity in war crimes. Who should you arrest?”
“Correct answer: the two TDs.”
This is what happened last week. Our police forces arrested TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace and drove them separately all the way from Dublin to Limerick prison. The two politicians remained there only a couple of hours and were then driven back to Dublin the same day.
They were arrested for refusing to pay a €2,000 fine for attempting to inspect US military aircraft at Shannon airport. They were attempting to highlight the issue of Irish government complicity in the “war on terror”.
Since 2002, about 2.5 million US troops have transited through Shannon. Military and civilian aircraft have carried soldiers, weapons and “rendition” suspects flown from one country to another where they have been interrogated and tortured.
It’s all part of operations related to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. It is summarised in a new booklet produced by the group Shannonwatch.
The wars are criminal. A recent report estimates that between 1 million and 2 million people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the “war on terror”.
The website of An Garda Síochána says that it works “to achieve a reduction in crime”. One would therefore think that our police forces would act to prevent Irish government participation in crimes committed in the Middle East. But it is instead those that try to prevent such crimes who are being arrested.
On the politicians’ side, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar lambasted Daly and Wallace, saying that it was “unacceptable” for a TD to break the law.
One might think that Varadkar would be focused on Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour TDs who have allowed the Irish State to participate in crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. But no, it’s only about Wallace and Daly.
Varadkar has more responsibility than regular TDs in this regard because he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2011-2014.
What does this have to do with Shannon? A lot. It is this Minister who is in charge of approving civilian aircraft carrying weapons into Irish airspace. Because most US troops fly into Shannon onboard civilian aircraft, this means that Varadkar is responsible for having approved most US troops that transited through Shannon under his tenure, a total of about 450,000.
Also, now, as Minister for Health, one would think that he would be concerned about, well, health. But the deaths of Iraqis and Afghans, children included, seemingly don’t count for much.
Meanwhile, as usual, Joan Burton complained about protests, in particular, that Wallace and Daly had cost the State a lot of money which could be better reinvested elsewhere. It never occurred to her that if her own government stopped military flights through Shannon the money would be saved instantaneously.
It is often said that politicians just do and say whatever people want to hear to get elected. But that’s not true.
The Peace and Neutrality Alliance commissioned an opinion poll to find out whether the Irish population supports the use of Shannon airport by the US military: 58% are opposed and only 19% in favour (23% don’t know).
This shows that politicians do not always seek to get votes by doing what the electorate wants. Politicians answer to power interests, in this case, that of maintaining close links with the United States military and government.
It is therefore important to fight off protestors and prevent opposition movements from reaching large proportions. This was actually confirmed by US General John W. Handy in 2007. He said that the Irish government told him that the reason it did not want to stop the flights was that this “would send out a signal that the protestors had won and the Irish State did not want that”.
So the government needs to show it will be tough with protestors. Hence the decision to send Daly and Wallace to jail, for symbolic reasons.
But the government still has to manage this rationally. My guess is that if it had sent the two TDs to jail for a month over Christmas, they could have become symbols around which more protests could have emerged. So it sent them for two hours only, to make a point, at a cost of €8,000 to the taxpayer.
Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. He is the author of Cruel Harvest: US Intervention in the Afghan Drug Trade. Follow Julien on Twitter: @JulienMercille