Five anti-war members of the ‘Pitstop Ploughshares’ have been found not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of damaging a US aeroplane at Shannon Airport over three years ago.
The jury of five men and seven women took four and a half hours to reach its unanimous decision on day twelve of the trial which had been continuously attended by supporters of the activists.
It was the third trial for the five protesters, who pleaded not guilty to two counts each of causing damage without lawful excuse to a naval plane, property of the United States government and to glass door panels, property of Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport, Clare on February 3rd, 2003.
Juries in two earlier trials were discharged before evidence had concluded following suggestions from the defence teams that the presiding judges were, or could have been perceived to have been, biased.
The accused at all stages accepted that they had gone into a Shannon Airport hangar with hammers and damaged the aircraft. They argued that they had a lawful excuse for doing so as they honestly believed they were acting to protect lives and property in Iraq.
Judge Miriam Reynolds discharged the group and left the court but returned when supporters burst into a round of applause telling them their behaviour was “understandable” but not acceptable in a court room.
The jury heard that a lone garda was on duty in the hangar at 3.45am when five people came running in carrying hammers and an axe or mattock.
Evidence was given that they were shouting prayers and went to the front, side and rear of the aircraft to strike the plane. They then knelt in a circle and prayed until gardai arrived to arrest them.
Copies of the Bible and Koran, Rosary and Islamic prayer beads, candles, flowers, St Bridget’s crosses and photographs of distressed children were among the items left at the scene by the protestors.
Sinn Féin International Affairs spokesperson Aengus O Snodaigh welcomed the verdict.
The Dublin South Central TD said: “Over three years ago, less than two weeks before a hundred thousand people took to the streets of Dublin to protest against the rush to war in Iraq, these five people courageously took a stand against the use of Shannon Airport as a staging area for the US invasion.
“The judgement today is a vindication of Ciaran O’Reilly, Nuin Dunlop, Damien Moran, Karen Fallon and Deirdre Clancy who were prepared to take a moral stand and face the consequences.
“With tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and hundreds more dying every week along with thousands of occupying coalition forces killed or injured, the Ploughshares Five by their actions helped redeem the Irish people, helped demonstrate clearly that this was not a war supported by the people of this island.”