Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Keep buying the leprechauns

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The horror of Syria: Irish people still don't connect
goings-on at Shannon with the "war on terror"

“Sure, as long as they keep buying the leprechauns . . . “

In October 2016, a significant increase in the number of US soldiers passing through Shannon Airport was noted by activists who monitor activities at the airport on a daily basis.

The increased activity has been linked to an onslaught against the Iraqi city of Mosul and a marked growth in the number of troops on the ground in both Syria and Iraq.

As Shannon’s role in the US-led “war on terror” enters its 16th year, it’s remarkable that their presence barely merits a mention in the Irish media.

No Garda has ever searched a plane, despite concerns that dangerous chemicals such as white phosphorous and prisoners on their way to and from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba may have been renditioned through Shannon.

We have to rely on the likes of Wikileaks and Trojan investigative work by Shannonwatch peace activists, who track the movement of military and chartered planes, if we are to have any inkling of what’s going on.

Marching for peace at Shannon Airport

“Sure, as long as they keep buying the leprechauns …”

It can be disconcerting to fly out of Shannon on a quiet midweek evening and find yourself surrounded by hundreds of US soldiers in uniforms.

If you are flying to London on a Tuesday evening, for example, you can sometimes feel like the only civilian in a military zone. 

When you look at the soldiers, you can guess whether they are coming or going depending on the mood.

If they are on their way home, there is a celebratory air in the terminal building as they queue up to buy leprechaun hats or bottles of duty free Irish whiskey they’d be unlikely come across in Syria or Iraq.

They queue to use the public phones and promise their loved-ones, excitedly, that they will be home in just a few hours.

If they are on their way to the Middle East, the mood can be a lot more sombre. There is an eerie silence across the terminal as they ponder on the long trips away from home.

It’s 15 years now since former US President George W. Bush asked “neutral” little Ireland to facilitate his troops in their endless global war.

As we celebrate 100 years since the Easter Rising, it’s incredible that the issue of Ireland’s complicity in war crimes in places like Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan is rarely heard on the national airwaves.

In July of this year, 85 people – including almost a dozen children – lost their lives in a horrific air strike in northern Syria.

The “terrorists” who carried out the attack were members of the US military and could well have passed through Shannon.

The attack wasn’t even mentioned on RTE, the national news station, the following day. It didn’t merit a minute's coverage on the main evening news.

And hardly anyone ever joins up the dots to link the hundreds of US troops passing through Shannon and the appalling atrocities carried out in far-off villages like Tokhar.

“Sure, as long as they keep buying the leprechauns … “

Earlier this month, a peace conference was organised at Shannon to mark 15 years of the airport’s participation in the “war on terror”.

The respected academics and former military men who organise the monthly Shannonwatch protest at the airport decided to mark the anniversary by inviting guest speakers and encouraging debate.

So they decided to book a room.                                    
A small number of TDs joined the Shannonwatch
15th anniversary demonstration this month

And then the hotel cancelled.

They booked another room in another hotel.

And the second hotel cancelled.

And then a third . . . In all, three hotels in the Shannon region suddenly discovered they were “double-booked” when they discovered the theme of the peace conference.

Sure, we can’t criticise the Americans. They are good for business, no matter what the morality of the presence of so many coalition troops in a “neutral” civilian facility.

So the organisers were forced to hold the peace conference in a tent just outside the perimeter of the airport.

Amazingly, some people who travelled to the peace conference found that the rooms they booked in the three hotels were still available that weekend.

As it transpired, by a strange coincidence, only the rooms the organisers had sought for the peace conference were double-booked.

“The fact that three bookings in three different hotels were cancelled to me is an indication of success rather than failure, and the fact that we were harassed by the authorities here this weekend shows that we are making an impact,” said Dr Edward Horgan of Shannonwatch.

Dr Horgan said Irish people had to make a connection between the US military aircraft which land at Shannon and the bombings in Syria or Iraq which sometimes aren’t even reported on our TV news channels.

He doesn’t give up hope that the peace movement will succeed, even though his small group has been protesting every month for the past 15 years.

“But, but . . . what about the Russians?”

Peace activists in Ireland are often accused of being “anti-American” because they protest against attacks carried out by the US military, but seem silent in the face of horrific atrocities carried out by others.

In Syria, for example, the Russians have been linked to war crimes, such as the bombing of hospitals in Aleppo, which are every bit as bad as atrocities carried out by the Americans in Mosul or Tokhar.

I put this point to Dr Horgan during the recent peace conference.

He said that Veterans for Peace and Shannonwatch (he represents both) condemn Russian and Syrian bombings in Aleppo, just as they condemn US bombings in Mosul.

War-torn Aleppo: 2.5 million US soldiers have passed
through Shannon on their way to war over 15 years
“From our perspective in Ireland, killing civilians is always wrong,” he said. “But the main difference is the Russians are not using Shannon Airport in their war in Syria, while the US is using Shannon Airport several times a day at present to refuel its aircraft.”

He expressed fear that Ireland could become a target for terrorists because of Shannon’s role in allowing troops, munitions, and weapons to be transferred to the Middle East for use in war crimes in civilian areas.

“It’s our responsibility as Irish citizens to stop Ireland's very direct involvement in these war crimes being committed by the United States. There is little we can do to stop Russian bombing except to get our Irish Government to use its influence within the UN to get a ceasefire in Syria.

“I am actually fearful. I didn’t go to Dublin on Easter Sunday for the 1916 commemorations because I was afraid it might be a target. I wouldn’t be surprised if Shannon Airport did become a target. At the moment, it is difficult for the terrorist groups to get to Ireland and that’s the only reason, I think, why we’ve avoided an attack so far.”

Shannon “becomes a target” …

Since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, when the US military first began to use Shannon for refuelling, it has been estimated that over 2.5 million armed US troops have passed through the airport.

In July 2016, the Irish Government confirmed in the Dail – the Irish parliament – that over 25,000 US troops had passed through Shannon in the first six months of this year.

Among the guest speakers during Shannonwatch’s 15th anniversary peace conference was US-born journalist Robert Fantina of the World Beyond War organisation.           

Calling for an end to Shannon Airport's collusion
in the US-led global "war on terror"

He said he was very surprised when he heard of the level of US troop movements through Shannon.

“By allowing US warplanes to land and refuel here, that violates Irish neutrality. Preventing the planes from refuelling here is not only good for Afghanistan or Ireland, it also shows the world that Ireland wants peace and does not support the US war machine,” he said.

He said that all across the world there needed to be a “cultural change” so that people could focus on peace time economies rather than the economies of war. There are strong vested interests in the arms industry who benefit from perpetual wars.

“People in Ireland might think it’s only a plane or two a week passing through, but they need to realise that these  planes are bringing death and destruction to people just like them. Men, women, and children who just want to go to work or school, live ordinary lives, and raise their families, are dying because planes are being allowed to land here,” said Fantina.

“Additionally, because US war planes are allowed to land here, Shannon becomes a target for organisations which are opposed to US militarism. People need to understand that the ‘war on terror’ is really a war of terrorism. Any place, including Shannon, which allows the US to perform those operations is part of that killing.”

“Sure, as long as they keep buying the leprechaun hats in the airport shops, we’ll be grand … !”

And this week, in Tipperary, some insignificant little committee is set to give the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, a "peace prize".

As if they were blissfully aware of all the atrocities his country has carried out - and the innocent lives lost - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria over the past 15 years.

The whole concept of a US leader flying in to pick up an award in the current climate, days after another appalling attack on civilians in Iraq, devalues the very notion of a "peace prize".

Who cares about villagers in Syria, when the slaughter of 85 of them never even makes it onto our TV screens?

And, sure, isn't it a great way of putting a little Tipperary village on the map?

Sure, it's great to be on such good terms with the Americans, even those who cause endless pain to ordinary, innocent people across the world. But I guess that's another story ...

Find Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller on Facebook ...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A letter to the Bank of Ireland

In a sinister development this week, the Bank of Ireland shut down the bank account of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

In the same week, it was confirmed that three hotels in the Shannon area have suddenly cancelled rooms which were booked for a peace conference this Saturday.

Activists who have opposed the use of Shannon by the US military in the "war on terror" have been told all sorts of stories and given all sorts of excuses about "double bookings".

Freedom of speech is alive and well in Ireland, it seems.

So it's time to write to the Bank of Ireland ...

West Bank villagers expressing solidarity with peace
activists at Shannon Airport in 2014

Dear Bank of Ireland,

I wish to express my shock and dismay at your decision to shut down the bank account of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as confirmed on national radio on Sunday.

As I'm now in my late 40s, I estimate that I have had my current account with you for approximately 32 years, since I took advantage of some promotional offer as a first year in University.

This decision, which I cannot understand, has forced me to consider switching my current account to another bank.

As a journalist and human rights activist, I have never seen any member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign express support for violence or any "terrorist" organisation since its foundation back in 2001.

The group widely condemns racism, including anti-Semitism, and bans anyone who uses racist language from their Facebook page.

I have met all of the main activists in the organisation and I have never heard or seen any of them express support for extremists or terrorists, including Hamas.

The IPSC has huge support, because like the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1980s, they exist solely to raise awareness of one of the gross injustices of our lifetimes, namely the occupation and colonisation of Palestine.

Day by day, they chronicle how awful life is for ordinary Palestinians under the occupation, and I have purchsed items like Palestinian football jerseys, traditional scarves and calenders from them, ironically using my Bank of Ireland credit card.

Does this mean I now have a "dodgy" or "risky" account?

I would never, ever have purchased items from the IPSC if I had even the slightest concern that they were involved with or connected to "dodgy" organisations.

So I am both shocked and appalled by the Bank of Ireland's decision and I am seriously considering switching my current account and credit card to a rival bank.

This was a shocking and unprecedented move on your part and it's a dangerous abuse of power.

Ciaran Tierney,


(If you feel strongly about this startling move on the part of Bank of Ireland, you can email them at