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A Blog About Human Rights
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Third Trial of PitStop Ploughshares Begins in Four Courts
Anti-war activists on trial in the Four Courts this week
3rd February 2003, five individuals took part in an anti-war action at Shannon airport. This action involved disabling a US Navy war plane that was using Ireland as a pit stop on its way to Iraq. The five were equipped with hammers, and set about disarming the plane using these tools. They were arrested on the scene and were charged with causing criminal damage worth US$2.5 million.
The first trial began in March 2005, but ended in a mistrial. A second trial in October 2005 also collapsed when it emerged that the newly appointed judge had a personal relationship with US president George W Bush, whose administration instigated the invasion of Iraq. The five will now stand trial at the Four Courts from July 5th to 19th.
This group is known as the Pit Stop Ploughshares, and the following article contains some thoughts on some of the other activities of the group, to put the action at Shannon in context.
Recent anti-war coverage on indymedia Ireland: Report on warship protest | Photo essay on Ploushares benefit gig | War dead remembered with showers of flowers at Shannon airport | Palme D'Or winner Ken Loach and 'Barley' screenwriter Paul Laverty support the Catholic Workers | Catholic Worker press release | TRIAL UPDATE: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 and 4
More: Peace on Trial website
In the discourse about the Pit Stop Ploughshares on indymedia and elsewhere, the focus has obviously been on the disarmament action in Shannon, more than 3 years ago. But there is much more to this group than this, and this action becomes much more meaningful when it is seen in the context of a wider set of activities. As well as taking action against something, the Catholic Worker movement is also about taking positive action for something. As well as acting against injustice and violence, the movement aims to take action to create and sustain peace, community, and a sense of solidarity with those who are socially excluded.
To this end, the Catholic Worker Five in Ireland have been very supportive of various projects around Dublin. For just some examples: Deirdre Clancy was centrally involved in providing support and solidarity for those who took part in the Afghan hunger strike in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in May 2006; during a Critical Mass event on Car Free Day in September 2005, Damien Moran took part in leafleting to publicise a free street party the following weekend; Ciaron O’Reilly was one of the key people who maintained the existence of Speaker’s Square in Temple Bar. Damien and Ciaron also worked in a homeless shelter throughout 2005. However, one of the most sustained and effective projects of all, following the example of Dorothy Day in the 1930s, was the creation of a ‘hospitality house’ on the south side of Dublin city (see Ciaron O'Reilly's account of this). From June 2003 until December 2005, various Catholic Workers lived in community in a series of different addresses in Kimmage and Rialto.
During this period they provided hospitality for many activists, providing beds, for example, for an activist from the homeless advocacy group Street Seen who was travelling from Belfast, and for a Shell to Sea campaigner from the Rossport Solidarity Camp in Mayo. They also provided a place for workers from the nearby Dolphin’s Barn community garden to wash up after an evening’s digging. During 2005, the Catholic Worker house in Rialto also provided assistance for a young US soldier who had deserted from the US army at Shannon airport, and who claimed asylum in Ireland. They helped to find accommodation for him at Kimmage, and provided support for him during his asylum application. (see also indymedia article on US soldiers seeking asylum in Ireland)
During this period, the Dublin Catholic Workers also hosted an open house on Sunday evenings. This would begin with a liturgy in the sitting room, usually led by Deirdre, Damien or Ciaron, and often involving music and some food. This took the form of discussion and reflection based on a particular passage of the bible. This atheist writer was even lured in to participate a few times, after Damien described the liturgy as a “roundtable political bible study”.
Following the liturgy, various events were organised on different Sundays – screenings, talks and discussions took place about a range of topics. One of the most memorable was a screening of a documentary about Irish activist Caoimhe Butterly’s time in Palestine, followed by a talk by Caoimhe herself. Caoimhe had also spent time in Iraq, and while in Palestine she acted as a human shield for Palestinians travelling around within the occupied territories. She acted as an escort for Palestinian children on their way to school, and interviewed Palestinian women about their experiences. She was based in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, where she was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier.
These Sunday nights were social occasions (bring your own beer/whiskey!) which offered a chance to meet up with other like-minded people. One of the characteristics of this modern age of global capital is that society has become fragmented. Long commuting times and long hours spent watching television mean that people are less involved in their community. This was even recognised by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he had Robert Putnam, theorist of ‘social capital’, address the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Putnam is the author of Bowling Alone, about the breakdown and revival of community in the US (see Colin Murphy’s critical review in Village magazine).
This process of atomisation particularly affects activists, be they socialist or anarchist, trade unionist or environmentalist, or protesters against globalisation or capitalism, and whether they are Catholic, atheist, Muslim or pagan. In one small way, the actions of the Dublin Catholic Workers have helped to counter this process by helping to build community. One of the great challenges of the modern age – in which indymedia has the potential to play a central role – is to link up several of the separately existing communities on the basis of what is common to each of them. The Pit Stop Ploughshares’ open house was a response to this challenge, and offered an opportunity to meet like-minded people, facilitate cooperation and interaction, and try to link up existing communities.
During the trial over the next weeks, there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their actions at Shannon 3 and a half years ago. But it is also important to remember that this action was part of a wider project to build an alternative kind of community, and to embrace a different set of principles to those of the mainstream. As well as tackling unfairness, inequality and violence, it is equally important to present a vision of a viable alternative, and the activities of the Catholic Workers have shown that they have made a significant contribution to articulating such a vision.