Nine anti-war protesters, including socialist and civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann, have been charged under terrorism laws following an occupation of the offices of US arms manufacturer Raytheon in Derry, Northern Ireland. Police claim £350,000 damage was done to computer equipment during the protest.
The demonstrators stormed the building on Wednesday 9 August, barricading themselves inside.
Speaking from a window at the plant during the occupation, Eamonn McCann said, “We had to dramatise the argument so as to force the issue into the mainstream.”
Documents and computers were hurled from windows, and the computer mainframe and other equipment put out of action.
Many files thrown out of the window gave the lie to claims that the Derry plant had no connection with the arms trade.
Once local radio started to report the occupation, others started to arrive to join the protest. In the course of the day around 100 people kept the solidarity picket going. Cars on the main road honked their horns in support. Local residents brought coffee, sandwiches and cake.
Raytheon is one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. It supplies guidance systems for many of the missiles and bombs used by US and Israeli forces in the Middle East. Raytheon systems guided the Qana bomb to the bunker where it blasted and crushed at least 51 people, including many children, to death last month.
After eight hours the occupation was ended by over 100 riot police storming the building.
Speaking from the back of a police Land Rover at Strand Road police barracks after he was arrested, a handcuffed Eamonn McCann said, “They came in riot gear and surrounded us in the room. We were playing cards at the time. We were arrested for burglary and criminal damage.”
After hours of questioning, Colm Bryce, Kieran Gallagher, Eamonn McCann, Sean Heaton, Eamonn O’Donnell, Gary Donnelly, Paddy McDaid, Jimmy Kelly and Micky Gallagher were charged with aggravated burglary and unlawful assembly.
These are “scheduled” offences, meaning they would be heard before the notorious Diplock, non-jury, court and that the men could not be given bail by the magistrate’s court but had to be remanded to prison before a bail application in the High Court.
The only reason for the remand in prison and the severity of the charges is that the protesters live in Northern Ireland. This would not have happened in Britain or the South of Ireland. Despite New Labour’s talk, political dissent is still treated differently here.
At the bail hearing, the Crown tried to raise Eamonn McCann’s convictions on public order offences going back to 1968-70. However, the judge said that the “vintage” of these charges made them irrelevant.
Eamonn was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. From moving the caravan of a homeless family to block a road so they could get housed in June 1968, to speaking in support of Catholic and Protestant postal workers fighting together earlier this year, he is a central gure of Northern Irish left politics.
The arms merchants were brought to Derry in 1999 by SDLP and Ulster Unionist leaders John Hume and David Trimble.
A statement from the Derry Anti-War Coalition said, “It is tragic that the Raytheon factory was held up at the time of its opening as an example of the ‘peace dividend’ for the North, when its function is exporting death and destruction to innocent people in Lebanon.”
At the bail hearing, barrister Joe Brolly pointed out that Raytheon had had a turnover of $21.9 billion last year, and described them as “purveyors of death”.
Bail was granted but the restrictions are draconian - far worse than, for example, those imposed on the Trident Ploughshares defendants in Scotland.
Bail conditions include an exclusion zone around Raytheon - but also prevent the protesters from attending any public meeting or any private meeting of the Derry Anti-War Coalition or the Irish anti-war movement. They were told that a private meeting means any meeting of three or more people.
A Raytheon Nine defence campaign is now being established across Ireland.
Contact the campaign at [email protected]