Jan 27, 2014
By Eugene Egan
The incarceration of 79-year-old Irish peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy has caused much controversy and focused international attention on the use of United States military aircraft at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Ms. D’Arcy, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, was previously arrested and given a three-month suspended sentence, along with Niall Farrell at Ennis District Court in December 2013, for illegal incursion of the airport’s runway on October 7, 2012. Her sentence was activated when she refused to sign a bond not to participate in any further protests, in unauthorized zones, against the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. D’Arcy was arrested at her home in Galway on January 15, 2014 and taken to Limerick Prison by the Irish authorities to be jailed for three months.
Margaretta D’Arcy has a long history of campaigning against injustice and the abuse of human rights. D’Arcy, who is also an actress and writer, spent three months in Armagh prison in Northern Ireland in 1980 after being arrested on International Women’s Day for protesting outside Armagh Prison against the inhumane conditions to which Irish republican women prisoners were subjected. Whilst in jail she immediately joined the republican women in their No-Wash and Dirty protests for political status: experiences about which she wrote in her book Tell Them Everything (Pluto, 1982).
D’Arcy was married to John Arden, a British Marxist playwright whose work was influenced by Bertolt Brecht. She and her husband were briefly jailed in India, in 1969, for performing agit-prop theater. She was also involved with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace movement in the early 1980s, campaigning against cruise missiles based at a Royal Air Force (RAF) military air base in Greenham Common, Berkshire, England. She and her husband strongly believed in using the theater as a non-violent form of resistance against oppression. In the spirit of Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, they used theater as a forum to bring about social and political change.
Shannon Airport, in County Clare, is one of Ireland’s three primary airports, the others being Dublin and Cork. For some years now it has been used by the US military as a stopover base to refuel its military aircraft in order to prosecute its imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Shannonwatch, since 2002, more than 2.25 million armed US military personnel have passed through the airport.
Ireland is allegedly a neutral country and is obligated under customary international laws on neutrality not to allow foreign troops involved in wars to transit through Irish territory and to arrest any such soldiers found on Irish territory. However this is clearly not the case, as Amnesty International have pointed out that Shannon Airport was used as a stopover for CIA operations, like the rendition of Binyam Mohammed to Morocco in 2002. The plane that was involved in the rendition had returned to the US via Shannon Airport.
Shannonwatch are a group of concerned people who have been monitoring all military flights through Shannon Airport for many years and hold monthly protests against such flights. The group campaigns to stop US military use of the airport, including all rendition-linked flights, and to make the Irish authorities and politicians accountable for their actions. Shannonwatch are affiliated to PANA (Peace and Neutrality Alliance), which campaigns against the integration of Ireland into any US military structures.
Without consulting the Irish people, Dail Eireann (the Irish parliament) passed a Government motion on March 20, 2003, that authorized the use of Shannon Airport for the US-led invasion of Iraq. In April 2003, a former Irish army officer, Ed Horgan, challenged this decision in the High Court in Dublin, arguing that it breached international law and was incompatible with Ireland’s historic position as a neutral country. The case was dismissed, but Mr. Hogan managed to bring the issue to public attention and put it under a spotlight.
The Irish people have an admirable record in identifying with and supporting oppressed peoples due to their own history of enduring and resisting British colonial rule. By contrast, the Irish Government seems to be putting the interests of US imperialism above the concerns of its own people about Irish neutrality.
Despite being detained in Limerick Prison, Margarreta D’Arcy remains in good spirits and is determined as ever in her campaign to end the Irish government’s complicity in US imperialist aggressions like the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and its program of rendition and drone attacks. D’Arcy has received widespread support. Many people, including politicians, artists and human-rights organizations have called for her release. Moreover, the Seanad (Upper house of the Irish parliament) has urged the Irish President, Michael D’ Higgins, to pardon Margarreta D’Arcy.
Shannonwatch spokesperson John Lannon said: “Margaretta D’Arcy is not a war criminal. Nor is she a human rights abuser, or the commander of an invading army… What we have is a situation in which a peace activist who draws too much attention to the injustices of recent US wars is locked up while the government continues to support these wars.” Adding that “Ireland is obligated under customary international laws on neutrality to not allow foreign troops involved in wars to transit through Irish territory. But the government refuses to stop the US military from using Shannon.”
It is indeed an absurd and galling situation when the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, who led his people into an illegal war in Iraq that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, was made a peace envoy to the Middle East; US President Barack Obama, who authorized drone attacks, renditions and other acts of imperialist aggression, was awarded a Nobel peace prize, and a 79-year-old, who campaigned for peace and is suffering of cancer, is jailed.
Editor’s notes: Eugene Egan is a political activist and writer based in the United Kingdom who campaigns on Palestine and Ireland. His work has been published in various British and Irish publications including Palestine News and Ceasefire Magazine. Photographs one and three by Sinn Fein. Photographs two, five and seven by Cliff Gilmore. Photograph four by Paul Adams and photograph six by Anarchosyn.