Interviews

Ciaron O'Reilly [Pitstop Ploughshares] (issue 14)

Ciaron O’Reilly is an Irish Australian peace activist and a member of the anarchist pacifist Catholic Worker movement. On February 3rd 2003 he was arrested along with four others (Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon and Damien Moran); together known as the Pit Stop Ploughshares; for non-violently disarming a US Navy Warplane at Shannon Airport (Co. Clare, West Ireland), on its way to Iraq. [Ireland is officially a neutral country, but without a doubt we are complicit in the illegal ongoing wars in the Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan)]. The Irish governments’ reaction subsequent to the action was to deploy the Irish Army and Navy to secure the airport, while three of the U.S. companies transporting some of the 10,000 troops a month, pulled out within three weeks. Following their arrests the Pit Stop Ploughshares spent over a month on remand at Limerick Prison before being released on bail. They went to trial in March 2005 on two counts of Criminal Damage €100 and $U.S. 2.5 million. The first case collapsed as a “mistrial”, a second case in October 2005 also collapsed and the five now await a second re-trial in July 2006. Ciaron was previously a member of the ANZUS Ploughshares which disarmed a B-52 Bomber in upstate New York during the 1991 Gulf War, for which he served 12 months and paid $U.S. 1800 in restitution. He was also a member of the Jabiluka Ploughshares that disabled uranium mining equipment in the Northern Territory of Australia in 1998 (for which he served five months in prison). Some of these experiences are accounted in a book he authored Remembering Forgetting – A Journey of Nonviolent Resistance to the War on East Timor (Otford Press, Australia, 2001). Ciaron is at present in Australia with family and friends, taking a break from the lengthy process of legal jeopardy and time spent on bail, he has been through over the three year period since the action at Shannon airport. He will return at the beginning of June for the retrial. Ciaron with his experiences of non-violent resistance both in the past and in Ireland can offer us insight into attempts to resist complicity in war, the farcical charade that is Irish neutrality, the Irish peace movement, etc.

Ciaron O'Reilly

Questions written by Anto and Thomas. Interview by email.
L: Loserdom ; C: Ciaron
L: What is the situation with the trial now?
C: We go back to trial at Dublin's Four Courts on July 5th 2006. We are charged with "$US 2 1/2million criminal damage without lawful excuse" to a U.S. Navy War Plane en route to Iraq on Feb 3rd. 2003. The nonviolent resistance action took place at Shannon Airport where the war plane was refuelling. We believe we had a lawful excuse, or basis, for disabling a part of a war machine that was threatening human life and property that was sustaining life in Iraq at the time eg. hospitals, water & sewage treatment works etc. The two previous trials have collapsed due to issues around "possible perceived prejudice of the judges".
At our first trial we were supported by 100 international peace activists, the second trial was a smaller affair. So we are very much dependant on local people supporting us at trial this third time around. We have spent 3 1/2 years on bail. No one regrets the action but we are pretty exhausted in terms of resources, finances and energy.
CW5

L: When you and the other four first carried out the action, the war was very much to the forefront of the public’s consciousness; how has this changed over the three years particularly in relation to support for the Pit Stop Ploughshares?
C: Well I guess you could say it was a mainstream media generated anti-war movement without the depth to seriously take on the war machine. When the mainstream media moved on, as the war expanded and escalated, the movement withered.
Feb 15th 2003 was a bit like a Live Aid "one day out for peace" phenomenon! Something the State expected, factored in, contained and defeated. Ploughshares and others moving from prescribed protest into nonviolent direct resistance were marginalised quite early from the mainstream movement in Ireland which was controlled by the moderate NGO careerists and the authoritarian left. The government ran a propaganda campaign against the Pit Stop Ploughshares claiming on the media we had assaulted and hospitalised a Garda in the hangar during the action. The Garda Press Office rejected this accusation on the very day of the action and when the Garda testified two years later, he stated that I had comforted him as he was stressed. There was no assault, no hospitalisation and no retraction of the slander by the two Government ministers.
L: One of the ideas of the initial action was that the Garda’s [police force here], the so-called “Guardians of the Peace”, would join with you in the action. This is an interesting idea, but do you think it could be possible?
C: The idea of prophetic action is invitational. It is both direct and symbolic. The direct aspect of our action disabled a war plane sending it back to Texas. That aspect was about the relationship between two inanimate objects – the metal of our hammer and the metal of the plane. The symbolic dimension of the action a community of human beings disarming a part of an imperial war machine that claims dominion over all creation is often the most dynamic, because it speaks to other humans hearts, minds and will. At the Berlin wall in '89 you had a dramatic and immediate response when folks began hammering on the wall and by the end of the evening soldiers, cops and citizens from both sides of the wall joined in to such an extent that hardware stores in both East and West Berlin sold out of hammers that night! Sometimes the response is slower. An armed guard on duty when we disarmed a B-52 Bomber in New York on the eve of the first Gulf War (1991) resigned from the Air Force in response to our action.
When we went into the hangar at Shannon it was our hope and our prayer that those we encountered would quit co-operating with the preparations for war at the airport and join us in disarmament and nonviolent resistance. If we did not have this hope, I don't think we would have had the ability to act.
L: A tactic used by the government in the trial has been to strip the action of any context [i.e. that the war is irrelevant, the US troops going through Shannon etc.], so reducing the action to an act of vandalism or egomania. Could you elaborate…
C: Well that's the tactic of the State, to encourage us all to inhabit a virtual reality where our complicity in the killing of Iraqi children doesn't concern us. As First World people we are afforded a bubble to inhabit. If we remain docile in the bubble we are promised that the consequences of our wars, lifestyles, exploitation of the poor will not impact us. But the bubble is a lie and not sustainable. We can either work our way out of this bubble nonviolently and in a spirit of resistance and hope. If not, we are eventually going to be dragged out of the bubble kicking and screaming in despair and fear by the blowback of the war coming home to Ireland, NYC, Madrid, Bali or global warming or whatever.
L: Not all of the Pit Stop Ploughshares/‘Catholic Worker Five’ are Christians, is this true?
C: The five of us are all very different people. I'd say four of us identify as practising Catholics. We have been given a home in the Church by the radical traditions of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, the Berrigans and others who have gone before us. Like the rest of the billion strong Church we would have different positions in the lively debates that occur in our tradition and movement. The other Pit Stop person would draw upon a variety of spiritual traditions. This is not unusual for Catholic Worker communities. Although the movement is traditionally Catholic Pacifist Anarchist, many agnostics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, pagans & anarchists have found a home there over the past 70 years
Ciaron & Damian

L: Would you have done anything differently as regards the action?
C: The urgency of the situation made preparations minimal. I think the five of us, as a group, have done very well considering we had only met briefly before deciding to take such a huge risk with our lives and liberty together. Three of us have been largely seperated from friends, family and home. None of us expected the judicial process has drag on for 3 1/2 years and counting. None of us regret the action, we all oppose this terrible war and we will enter our third trial together upbeat and hopeful.
L: You have said that some of the Catholic Worker principles are: “How do I live a life without exploitation?” and “How do I live a life without violence?”. In general it’s kind of a bizarre idea, that of a Catholic anarchist, how do you reconcile the two? (church establishment, a lot of outdated ideas, etc.) Have you always been Catholic yourself? Might you have more in common with punk-types than many Christians?
C: I guess we'd say catholic anarchism has been around for 2,000 years and the agnostic/atheist anarchists are the new kids on the block. If you are a pacifist (which I believe Jesus to be) you're going to be an anarchist because the state is based on institutionalised violence – military, prisons, cops etc. As I've said the terms "anarchist" & "pacifist" describe orientations and make much better questions than answers...how do you live without violence and exploitation being the main ones. These questions emerge from a lot of radical traditions some Christian, Buddhist, indigenous and contemporary movements eg. class struggle, environmental, anti-war, youth culture.
I believe every movement is confronted by the three temptations Jesus struggled with in the desert - power, wealth and status. Whether the dissident movement be Punk, Irish Republican, Feminist, Christian...you'll find folks being seduced by these temptations and selling out. But there are radicals (Latin for "returning to the roots") in every tradition. So yes in practice I find myself with more in common with radical punks, radical Buddhists, radical agnostics etc than with many "Christians". But just because Johnny Rotten is now selling real estate in Malibu shouldn't mean people should give up being punks!
L: Where do you get your inspiration from?
C: Like a lot of people I struggle with despair. But I'm nourished by other brothers & sisters who continue to struggle and celebrate and resist. Dorothy Day, Dan & Phil Berrigan have left a legacy that shows that you can still be a human being at the centre of an empire that deals daily in death and exploitation. Being a first world, white guy I owe a lot to aboriginal people, homeless folks, women and prisoners for shaking and waking me to what it means to be human.
US plane at Shannon (photo Indymedia.ie)

L: Your work in the homeless shelter, is this part of your beliefs and what is the reaction from the people you work with as regards your political/spiritual actions and beliefs?
C: This is the first time I've worked in the charity industry and been paid to work with the homeless who are regarded as clients at a project rather than guests at a Catholic Worker home. So I'm generally in a compromised position. The residents at the shelter where I work are great, I don't think I have ever dreaded going into work there. They wrote to me when we were in Limerick prison following the action, they put up photos and clippings of us in the shelter and I got a wonderful standing, stumbling ovation when I walked in after our first mistrial. Some of them have joined us on our walk to court during the trials. Over the years, as a Catholic Worker, I've found being in jail with the poor as the most intimate act of solidarity with them. In that state you're as stripped as you're ever going to be of our privilege and power and organic solidarity is a real possibility.
L: You’ve criticised the peace movement in Ireland as a co-dependent dance between govt. and movements – that it is ok to have protest and ok to have the war; also highlighting the profitability/marketing opportunities for recruitment of new members to political parties and charity industries. Can you explain this view and what might an alternative be?
C: I guess I see a lot of political activity by parties, NGO's etc as ambulance-chasing opportunism. When these people got 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin they didn't have a clue what to do and lacked the courage to move into nonviolent resistance at Shannon, which was a real possibility in early 2003. Like a lot of church bureaucrats who'd shit themselves if Jesus returned or the kingdom came, those who lead and contained the anti-war movement in Ireland weren't serious about resisting Irish participation in the war.
When I was stopped by ASIO (Australian state intelligence) on returning home, they didn't ask me if I was planning to organise a big march in the city centre on a Saturday afternoon. They wanted to know if I was going anywhere near where the war machine is located. I'd encourage folks to organise in communities and affinity groups, get clear on nonviolence and go direct to where the war is touching down in Ireland - Shannon Airport, Irish Aviation Authority, Raytheon in Derry etc.
L: Anything else to say, any advice for future actions that might happen?
C: I guess what I see as significant is nonviolent resistance to this war and proactive solidarity with those who are resisting, arrested, before the courts or imprisoned. If there's not much solidarity, there won't be any sustained resistance.
Keep in touch with events around our July 5th trial in Dublin through our website www.peaceontrial.com
Write to our friends in jail in the U.S. Prison addresses on their websites www.stpatricksfour.org and www.soaw.org and www.jonahhouse.org