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One Irishman in His Boat Spreads Anti-War Message
Published on Sunday, August 29, 2004 by the Observer/UK
One Irishman in His Boat Spreads Anti-War Message
by Mary Russell
 

On 25 June, a small 12ft boat slipped up the Shannon estuary and within the hour attracted the attention of two helicopters, two assault craft and a police riverboat.

The occupants - two men and a woman - were not engaged in drug or people smuggling, or even in a spot of illegal fishing. 'We held up our sign so that the river police could read it clearly,' said former Irish army officer Ed Horgan.


What it said was 'Bush Go Home', and given that the President of the United States was at that moment flying in to land at Shannon airport it was perhaps inevitable that the three should be escorted under armed guard to Ennis Court House, where they were charged with breaching public order.

Horgan is something of a thorn in the flesh of the Irish government. After 22 years in the army, where he served as Commandant (Major) in charge of the First Tank Squadron, and having served with the UN in the Middle East and Cyprus, he has most recently been actively engaged in opposing the present government's stance on Iraq.

In April 2003 he brought his case to the high court in Dublin, challenging the government's decision to allow Shannon airport to be used for the movement of US troops and munitions and for the refueling of US aircraft going to war.

He claims this was in contravention of international law and, in particular, incompatible with Ireland's historic role as a neutral country. Although not enshrined in the constitution, neutrality has long been government policy, first declared by De Valera in 1939 prior to the Second World War and reaffirmed many times over.

However, since the invasion of Iraq, Horgan maintains, this neutrality, cherished by many, is being eroded and continues to be.

About 150,000 US troops have passed through Shannon airport, transported in US military aircraft as well as in chartered civilian planes.

The high court dismissed his case, although he was awarded 50 per cent costs as the judge felt he had raised an issue of national importance.

Since then, he has engaged in more individual action, including returning his cherished service medals and, most recently, using a small boat in a manner which the Irish authorities clearly felt was a threat to President Bush. The charge brought against him was that he was breaching public order by being in a public place within an exclusion zone.

'How you can have one within a public place I don't know,' he says, 'and where it was exactly in the water I don't think they knew either.'

Horgan draws his strength from the fact that he sees what is happening in the world from his perspective as a military man, as an international peacekeeper and from an academic point of view: he is currently writing his doctorate on reform of the UN. He is passionate about the issue of war and the role of the individual in aiding and abetting it, directly or indirectly. 'We provided everything the US troops needed at Shannon, down to the sandwiches,' he said. 'By doing so, we have participated, to date, in the killing of 13,250 Iraqi civilians. Because of this we are now potential targets since, under international law, Iraqis have the right to defend themselves.'

To some, the idea of Ireland's neutrality is a pleasing but unrealistic pipe dream. They believe that, instead, Ireland must cease its posturing and play a military role both within Nato and the EU.

Horgan disagrees. Though not a pacifist - he describes himself as a peace activist - he believes Ireland can never be anything more than the tail end of a major army. He thinks the country can make a huge contribution to global peacekeeping, but its credibility with the global community is now being eroded.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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