Shannon pull-out hailed as victory by anti-war group

The Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) has hailed the decision by two US airlines to cease transporting US troops through Shannon…

The Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) has hailed the decision by two US airlines to cease transporting US troops through Shannon Airport as a victory.

The Department of Transport confirmed this afternoon the two carriers, Miami Airlines and North American Airlines, had told Aer Rianta they would no longer be using the airport for refuelling, citing "security concerns". Described by a department spokeswoman as "relatively minor operators", they have only used the airport 18 times between them so far this year.

There are now only two airlines, American Trans Air and Hawaiian Airlines, ferrying US military personnel through the Co Clare facility on their way to a potential war with Iraq, following the cessation of operations by World Airways last month.

The spokeswoman added that American Trans Air, which is the largest carrier of US troops through Shannon, intends to "continue to operate normally and has not indicated that it has any security concerns."

Mr Richard Boyd-Barrett, spokesman for the Anti-War Movement, welcomed the news but said it was important to remember the pull-outs were not as a result of any change in Government policy.

"While naturally we regard this news as a victory for our cause, the fact remains that the Government position of supporting a US-led war on Iraq against the will of the Irish people remains," he told ireland.com.

Mr Boyd-Barrett said the IAWM would press ahead with its planned protest at Shannon at the weekend even if the final airline pulled out before then. "There is still a major political job to be done."

A separate anti-war group, Grassroots Network Against War, is planning a direct action at the airport at the same time. Describing their action as "an example of mass non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi's salt march," they will attempt to dismantle the perimeter fence and hold a mass trespass.

The Garda Press Office said it was aware of the threat, and there would be "adequate personnel" at the airport to deal with "any situation".

However, Mr Boyd-Barrett said he was confident the overall mood of the protest, which he hoped would attract several thousand people, would be peaceful. "The real concern is planes going to the Middle East to bomb innocent children, not pulling down fences".

The Green Party MEP for Dublin, Ms Patricia McKenna, also warned against the planned direct action. "While I understand the frustration andthe motivation behind direct action, I must stress that it could only becounter productive," she said. "The media spotlight will automatically focus on any scuffle, no matter how insignificant."

Ms McKenna was arrested in October 2001 for a direct action protest at Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland.

World Airways pulled out of using Shannon last month, saying it planned to route additional military traffic through Frankfurt, due to a recent reduction in its flight activity there. It insisted that the security situation had not influenced its decision. It carried around one-third of US military-related commercial traffic through Shannon in 2002.

Aer Rianta earned over €9 million in landing fees from such traffic last year.

Fine Gael has warned the future of the airport may be at risk.Mr Pat Breen, Clare TD, said the security situation meant commercial airlines "may reassess their current stopover destinations, leaving Shannon out in the cold".

If US carriers avoid Shannon for security reasons, then US tourists will follow suit, he said.

Kilian Doyle

Kilian Doyle

Kilian Doyle is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times