Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, International, Justice and Defence

Edward Horgan was in court yesterday, 13 January, in order to have a date set for his trial for attempting to inspect US military aircraft at Shannon on 18 April 2015.  Edward is a champion peace activist of long-standing, and his piece gives an interesting insight into how peace activists are treated in the Irish Courts system.

hercules c130s at Shannon

The four Hercules C130 planes that Edward tried to inspect.

It was another long day in court, my third long day so far and my case has not even had a date set for trial yet. This represents just one of the abuses of our justice system. I was summoned to appear in court first on 18th November 2015 on a charge that on 18th April 2015, I did “enter a part of Shannon airport to which persons were not for that time permitted”.

The actual circumstances of the incident involved included the fact that I was in Shannon airport for the purpose of taking an Aer Lingus flight to London to attend a peace conference. As I was about to board my Aer Lingus flight with a fully authorised boarding card, I observed that there were no less than four US warplanes, Hercules C130, parked in the middle of the airfield, in clear contravention of international laws on neutrality, and Ireland’s status as a neutral state. Knowing that the Gardaí and the airport authorities had no intention of searching or investigating these US military aircraft as they are legally bound to do, I felt I had no option but to proceed towards the aircraft to attempt to search or investigate them. This was not a stunt or a protest on my behalf, but a genuine attempt to ensure that the laws of this country and international laws were being obeyed and complied with. More on this later.

In such cases in the District Court, if one pleads guilty, the cases are usually dealt with on this first day in court. If one has the temerity to say: Judge I am not pleading guilty, because I am not guilty of any offence, and I intend to contest this charge against me, then the court begins a punishment without trial process, by saying, well, we cannot deal with your case today, and we cannot even set a date for trial today, but we will set another date – in my case this next date was set for 9th December. Bear in mind that on the first day, 18th November, I had to spend most of the day in court, because you have to be in court when the court begins at 10.30, and then you discover that your case is listed at the bottom of the list (which is almost always the case with troublesome peace activists – this puts off many people from being peace activists especially if they are young people with jobs etc. and the cost of losing a days work is substantial).

On the second day, December 9th, Judge Durcan was supposed to set a date for trial as the preliminary matters – such as me the defendant getting “discovery” of all the prosecution statements – had already been completed. On 9th December I found that I was listed almost of the bottom of the list again, for no apparent reason other than that I was a pesky peace activist. Judge Durcan obviously considered that I needed some more of my time wasted so he decided that he was not yet going to set a date for trial but would set yet another “date for mention”, this time on January 13th (that is today). Today was the first big court day after the Christmas and New Year’s festivities, featuring fighting, drunkenness, shop-lifting, car stealing, drugs possessions, and other very minor, crimes against humanity. I was listed number 154, which meant I had to spend all day in court until my case was eventually called at about 4.30pm. Needless to say, everyone in court was getting more than a little tetchy. Just before my case, an even older gentleman’s case was called. I had been sitting next to him for a while earlier and noticed he looked quite ill and carried a stick to help him stand up and walk. He had already spent a previous day in court and expected to have his case dealt with today – silly him. When the Judge told him today was only a day for mention, he said he had been waiting for his case to be dealt with all day and he was quite ill, and wanted the case to proceed. He was abruptly told by Judge Durcan that this was the court procedure. But then why was I kept waiting all day? Well, said Judge Durcan, the prosecutor Inspector Kennedy has had to be here all day also. Yes, said the exhausted old man, but Inspector Kennedy is being paid to be here all day. Judge Durcan blew a gasket. Mr so-and-so, this is no way to address the court, and you are not doing your case any favours, said the learned Judge Durcan. The defendant, exasperated, just sat down and a date was set some time into future – not sure if it was a trial date or mention date!

My case was called next, so the tetchy mood was set.

Well have we agreed a date for trial yet? said Judge Durcan. Inspector Kennedy started suggesting some dates in February and March, and then I, representing myself, piped up as follows:

Judge Durcan, I wish raise important issues, and to request that you recuse yourself from this case (I think the word recuse means “get yourself off my case, and pass it on to another judge”) for a number of important reasons, on the basis that I believe you may be biased or influenced by your judgments in recent similar cases involving Clare Daly, Michael Wallace, Margaretta D’Arcy and Niall Farrell. While the charges in these cases were different to those in my case, there are or will be significantly similar evidence involved.

My biggest concern is that in these previous cases the bulk of the defence evidence was based around the issue of justification for the actions undertaken by each of the defendants. You allowed this evidence to be presented, and in fact you highlighted the significance of this evidence, but then you clearly indicated that you did not take any of this evidence into account in your judgement. This evidence relates to matters of international relations and international law.

I will give examples from your judgment statement and subsequent comments on your judgement in the Daly and Wallace cases.

I then began quoting excerpts from Judge Durcan’s judgement in the Daly and Wallace case, with a view to highlighting where he emphasised that he was taking a very narrow view on these cases, and effectively ignoring the elephant in the room, US warplanes at Shannon.

Judge Durcan intervened and looked at the clock and said there was not enough time to deal with these matters in detail today. He was now thinking on his feet, or on his seat! Well, he said, due to the likely length of your case, based on past experiences, I may not be available to take this case, and we may need to assign another judge anyway. This presumably got him off the hook of not having to “recuse” himself, thereby admitting that he might have been biased, but that he would “excuse” himself due to pressure of other cases! Nice one, Judge.

Our exchanges were polite and cordial in spite of the long day at the office.

Judge Durcan then set yet another date when I could present my full submission for his recusal. Of course he said that he always treated all his cases in a fair and unbiased manner, and would still do so in this case if he decided to proceed with it. I did not comment on this remark, and the next date, which will be the fourth day so far, was set for 3rd February. This will not yet be a date for trial, but a further “date for mention”. So one can see that without ever having a trial I have been subjected to a punishment of at least 4 days in court – Justice, Irish style.

Being retired, I can afford this time, and being of a stubborn and determined nature, I will persevere in this case, as I have done in the other four cases in which I have been prosecuted by the Gardaí at Shannon because of my involvement in defending human rights and the rule of law by campaigning to end US military and CIA use of Shannon airport. In all previous cases I have been acquitted. In this case, even if convicted, I will appeal any such conviction through all possible levels.

Much more on this to come in later installments!!

Originally published on Shannonwatch