Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Defining Protest – an interview with anti-war protester Ciaron O’Reilly of the Pitstop Ploughshares.

In the dead of night, two weeks before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, five people broke into Shannon airport in the west of Ireland. Although Shannon airport is not a military base and Ireland was and remains officially at peace with Iraq, they found a US war plane and, according to charges brought against them, used hammers to inflict damage alleged to be in the order of $2.5 million dollars to it. Rather than try to escape, the five, who are members of the Catholic Worker Movement, gathered together and prayed around a shrine they made on the spot. They were arrested, jailed, released on bail and their case came to trial in March 2005, only for a mistrial to be ordered on the sixth day of hearings, much of them with the jury absent. The new trial date is Oct 24th 2005. The five &ldquoPit Stop Ploughshares”[Editor’s note: a name inspired by Isiah 2:4 from the Old Testament -“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks] are Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damien Moran and Ciaron O'Reilly: &ldquotoo straight for the hips, too hip for the straights, too spiky for the fluffies, too fluffy for the spikies.”

The Catholic Worker Movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York. &ldquoI would say that as a philosophy it's a radical Catholic anarchist pacifist movement,” O'Reilly explains. &ldquoYou have people who wouldn't be pacifist or anarchist but that's the tradition, though every community is autonomous. Even though New York is the oldest house it doesn't really play a mother-house role: people just start their own houses. I'm quite surprised that 25 years after Dorothy's death it still exists with such ideological continuity and consistency of practice.” The Catholic Worker Movement, O'Reilly continues, is centred on three things: community, non-violent resistance and acts of mercy.

The movement influenced the young Berrigan brothers, who in turn influenced it. Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit and his brother Philip was a World War II veteran and Josephite priest. In 1968, during the Vietnam war, the brothers, along with seven other people, famously and publicly burned draft records in Catonsville, Maryland, becoming known as the &ldquoCatonsville Nine.” What they did, O'Reilly explains, was move the Catholic Worker from passive conscientious objection to &ldquoassertive non-violence, actually going to the places and intervening in these kind of liturgical non-violent based actions.”

When O'Reilly says the church moved Philip Berrigan from New York, where he had been organising against the war on Vietnam, to Baltimore, while Daniel Berrigan was posted to South America, in what he calls an &ldquoIrish promotion” this seemed like a good opportunity to ask him his opinion of pope John Paul II and the Vatican. &ldquoDisciplinary transfer would be a diocesan thing, rather than the Vatican. It's been an interesting time with his death and having to think about the church. My attitude to the Vatican and the pope is that he is the teaching authority of the tradition that I was born into and locate myself in but that tradition acknowledges the primacy of the informed conscience. As a Catholic you are obligated to inform yourself of what the 2,000 years of tradition is and what all these people who had the time to do the study and read the books and do the thinking say … The buck stops with your individual conscience so you're obligated to inform that. John Paul II was a conservative but I actually prefer conservatives to liberals. As a radical, if a conservative is going to stab you, he'll stab you in the front. The liberal always goes for the back. A good conservative will actually have consistent principles.”

&ldquoThe pope, in terms popular and global politics, had a very consistent position against the first Gulf War, against the bombing of Serbia and against this war. It's interesting: American Catholics, bishops and cardinals don't treat that as seriously as they do his position on abortion. I find that very hypocritical.”

The legal situation of the Pit Stop Ploughshares is fraught with reporting difficulties even for the mighty legal resources at the disposal of but we try to thread our way through the minefield. &ldquoIn Ireland there seems to be an over sensitivity on sub-judice rules. In America it's not a problem: you can see the Michael Jackson case all over the papers before it even starts,” O'Reilly says. The niceties of the Irish legal system are not, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the international reach of his anti-war activities, of great interest to him. &ldquoWe've been on bail for two and a half years. For the first year we had to sign on every day and we were banned from the county of Clare and from around the US embassy. Then it was twice a week and a five mile radius from Shannon. We went into trial on 7th of March. The prosecution went forward. A lot of the black propaganda the government had used against us – that we hospitalised a garda [i.e. a policeman] – was not part of the prosecution case. Two government ministers were on the radio a few hours after our action and they said we'd assaulted and hospitalised a garda. By midday that day the Garda press office had put out a statement saying there was no assault, no hospitalisation. That slander has never been withdrawn by those two ministers.”

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