Almost 500 gardai were posted Shannon after one group announced that it planned to pull down part of the airport’s perimeter fence in protest against the continued use of the airport by American military forces en route to the Persian Gulf for a possible invasion of Iran.
Political parties and a number of organizations in the anti-war lobby distanced themselves from the direct-action tactics.
Before the march, the army had erected a 6-foot-high razor-wire obstruction inside part of the existing perimeter and gardai set up checkpoints on approach roads and searched cars and buses for weapons.
It was the biggest security operation Shannon had seen, with many gardai wearing riot gear, a section of the mounted unit on duty on horseback, and a Garda helicopter constantly flying over the area.
The airport is now guarded around the clock by the Irish Army after the fence was breached on a number of occasions by activists who vandalized U.S. planes refueling on the way to the Persian Gulf.
The Grassroots Network Against War had posted a message on its website calling on people to take part in a “mass non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi’s salt march” and to stage a “mass trespass.”
The Labor Party, the Green Party and Sinn Fein decided to stay away and fewer than 1,000 took part. In contrast, the anti-war march in Dublin on Feb. 15 attracted an estimated 100,000 protestors.
GNAW describes itself as a “non-hierarchical network of groups and individuals active against the war” that was formed in Belfast last September. It pledges to “form a force to free the skies of Clare from the U.S. war machine.”
By agreement among the anti-war groups, Saturday’s Shannon protest became two demonstrations. GNAW supporters started first on the two-mile march from Shannon Shopping Center to the airport carrying white flags. Then the larger group, led by the Irish Anti-War Movement, set off carrying pink flags and marched to the terminal.
The smaller group of GNAW supporters approached the airport’s fence and some were involved in scuffles with gardai.
GNAW said its protest was not a secretive or elite action. Its leaders rejected suggestions they had caused a split in the anti-war movement or were trying to hijack it.
“Since calling this protest, we have met with other anti-war movements and have always been clear that direct action will be part of our protest,” they said in a statement. “Since we called this protest, other anti-war movements have called demonstrations for the same time at Shannon, which will operate on a different basis.
“We respect their right to organize protests in a manner that they see fit and will continue to do everything in our power to coordinate with them to ensure that there is no confusion among or between the protests.”
GNAW had anticipated arrests. Leaders emphasized it was to be “an entirely non-violent protest” but added that “there is a certain risk of arrest or violence from the police.”
In a separate protest in Dublin, about 150 people attended an anti-war vigil outside the Department of Foreign Affairs at the same time as the Shannon demonstration.