The trial of two faith-based peace activists ended in October 2020 with an acquittal of all charges – over four years after the two men entered the airfield at Shannon Airport to protest the presence there of the “murderous machinery” of the US military.
After a nine-day trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, the jury of eleven men and one woman took a little under two hours to return unanimous verdicts of not guilty on the two charges of criminal damage of the airport perimeter fence and runway.
Colm Roddy, aged 78, and Dave Donnellan, 60, had defended themselves and Judge Karen O’Connor commended them both for running their own cases in a dignified and courteous manner.
At the heart of their actions was the men’s belief that their actions were a reasonable response to the use of Shannon Airport by US troops and this belief would form the main plank of their defence.
Colm Roddy of Bayside Walk, Dublin and Dave Donnellan of Reuben St., Rialto, Dublin were stopped on the runway after they had walked towards a US Learjet and asked army and garda officials guarding the plane to search it.
The officials declined to do so and Dave Donnellan later told gardaí in interview that he believed that by doing so they were in gross dereliction of their duty to prevent the further loss of innocent life.
Before being stopped by officials the pair had spray-painted a number of red crucifixes on the airfield tarmac and on the walls of a substation building. These 45 minutes during which the men had walked around unchecked was cited by Dave Donnellan as evidence that the security at the airport was a “laughable joke”.
The charges facing the men alleged that they damaged the fence and runway without lawful authority or lawful excuse, in contravention of section two of the Criminal Damage Act, 1991.
Section six of the Act provides for a defence of lawful excuse where a defendant acted in order to protect himself or another and his actions were reasonable in the circumstances as he believed them to be.
In moving and heartfelt closing speeches both men spoke of their need to respond to the war mongering of the US military.
Dave Donnellan said hat he believed his prosecution for allegedly cutting the fence shows that “we have lost perspective on what’s really important.”
“I believe what’s really important is life itself. The life we share with our loved ones and the life we share with people we don’t know; people in Iraq and Libya and Syria and all the other places affected by US led wars.
“Their lives are as important as our own. That’s what took me into Shannon Airport four years ago,”.
He described how he felt that his journey to Shannon Airport began when as a younger man he listened to the stories of victims of the Nicaraguan civil war.
Colm Roddy told the jury that the US military has been using Shannon as an “effective forward operating base” for over 17 years and he has been protesting about this since then.
He said in that time around 2.5 million US troops have transited through the airport “on way to wars” and that taxpayers money is being used to pay overtime for army and garda officials to guard US military planes at the airport.
He noted that many of these US soldiers have come back “in bits and in boxes” and are as much victims as the people who die in the wars in countries in north Africa and the Middle East.
He became overwhelmed with emotion as he told the court: “As a citizen of Ireland I’m made complicit in this destruction and torture.
“My actions show that I will not meekly allow the State to make me complicit in the murder. This is both a rational and reasonable position to hold,” he said.
He said that he believes his actions had lawful excuse by raising awareness of these issues.
“Lawful or reasonable excuse is a house with smoke coming out it. It is the screaming of a child within. It is the right to enter. Shannon Airport is the house on fire and the screams of dying children can be heard all over the planet,” he said.
Dave Donnellan noted the evidence was that the hole in the fence measured 400 by 350 in millimetres and said these were “reasonable” dimensions.
“The presence of the U.S. Military at Shannon Airport is not a problem that can be measured in millimetres.
“The breach of Ireland’s neutrality and the transformation of Shannon into a legitimate military target under International Law is not a problem that can be measured in millimetres,” he said.
He submitted to the jury that “the forces of law and order are being used in favour of those who place no value on life and against those like Mr Roddy and myself who seek to protect human life”.
Later directing the jury on this law Judge O’Connor reminded jurors of the evidence of the defendant’s motivations.
Dave Donnellan told gardaí that “our faith based intention is the prevention of further loss of life”.
Colm Roddy told gardaí, “I had lawful excuse, I was trying to prevent a much greater illegality which is going on in Shannon Airport”.
He said that he came to the airport to act according to his conscience and “sense of duty to fellow human beings”, to “try to stop damage…to innocent lives”.
Judge O’Connor told jurors they must decide if the behaviour of the accused was reasonable in the circumstances as each of them believed them to be.
“It does not matter if the belief is justified or not as long as Mr Roddy and Mr Donnellan honestly hold the belief,” ” she said.
In his closing speech Colm Roddy further told the jury that the evidence of two Shannon Airport police officers was that they were previously unaware that the airport is, under international law, a legitimate military target because of the presence of the US military.
He said the State “dare not contradict that fact”.
“Our action has at least made some of the people who are taxed with protecting life limb and property in Shannon Airport aware of danger to life limb and property that they were previously unaware of”.
“That for me is lawful excuse for my actions,” he said.