A large tract of County Clare is being sealed off as large numbers of Irish and US security forces and military support take up positions in advance of the visit to Ireland by US President George Bush.

Thousands of anti-war protestors are expected to take part in demonstrations around the country this weekend, culminating in a mass rally at Dromoland Castle Hotel, where the President is staying, and at nearby Shannon Airport, his point of arrival and departure.

The airport has controversially operated as a logistical base for US forces en route to the war in Iraq.

Up to 6,000 troops, four naval ships, Air Corp planes and hi-tech equipment, including decontamination units and bomb disposal kits to guard against a chemical or biological attack will surround the airport.

A massive police operation is also being mounted outside the walls of Dromoland Castle Hotel, where the president will spend the night before taking part in a joint summit of US and European leaders.

Teams of US Marine snipers are understood to already be in position as part of the President’s own 1,000-strong security detail.

Demonstrators have been told they will be held back half-a-mile from the hotel and barred entirely from the main road to the airport, on which President Bush’s cavalcade will be travelling.

Despite disappointment at being kept out of sight of summit participants, protesters have vowed to assemble as close as possible to the hotel.

Demonstrations have also been planned for Dublin city centre and around the country to coincide with the president’s arrival.

There has been renewed criticism of the efforts being made by the Dublin government to host Mr Bush this weekend, as well as its ongoing support for the war in Iraq.

Opposition to the visit has been expressed by a broad cross-section of Irish society, including the churches, trade unions and the opposition political parties.

Prominent Irish legal figures have issued a statement pointing out that Mr Bush should be subject to arrest pending an investigation of war crimes in Iraq.

A group of Independent TDs and the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) accused the Dublin government of turning Shannon into a “US air force base”, while local political representatives described the heavy security measures as being “akin to martial law”.

Des Long of Republican Sinn Féin described the restrictions on protests as “a perversion of democracy and a curtailment of free association guaranteed by and enshrined in the Constitution”.

An admission this week by the 26-County Minister for Defence Michael Smith that his government had secretly allowed US troops to train on the Curragh of Kildare for the past five years has fuelled anger over the visit.

Sinn Féin Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain today sought a special parliamentary debate on the “continuing gross violation of Irish neutrality” by the Irish Government in the context of what he described as the “unwanted visit” of President George Bush.

Socialist Eamonn McCann said the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had allowed himself to be cast as a “bit-part player” in the Bush re-election campaign.

“I’m old enough to remember Ronald Reagan visiting Ballyporeen the summer before his re-election campaign while Bill Clinton was also here,” he said.

“It is not cynical to say that Bush is thinking about the image of him flanked by Euro-pean leaders in the TV ads for his campaign come October. And I’m certain that Bertie Ahern knows that he is being used as a bit-part player in the election campaign,” he said.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News