I drive off the ferry into the new Dublin. Much of it still looks like the old Dublin, before the EU and Celtic Tigerhood. The Liffey is still there, the foot bridges over it, the majestic buildings, the Winding Stair bookstore. I can still smell the sweat of the men marching to their deaths on the Easter Rising. Somebody on Grafton Street is still playing “The Foggy Dew” on uilean pipes. But the center of Dublin is a place for drunk college students and black-clad nouveau yuppies eating nouveau cuisine in nouveau restaurants. From what I’ve tasted it’s often the same guys who used to cook at Bewley’s who are now cooking in smaller kitchens, making smaller portions of the same food and charging a lot more money for it.
But other things haven’t changed. According to it’s constitution Ireland is a neutral country. Although it’s a member of the European Union, it hasn’t joined NATO, and there are people aiming to keep it that way. That night I’m doing a benefit for the Pitstop Plowshares, five men and women who are awaiting sentencing for their crimes. Their crimes were essentially trying to enforce Irish law when the Irish government wouldn’t.
These folks had noticed planes passing through en route to land at Shannon Airport that didn’t look like commercial planes. Upon closer inspection (accomplished easily enough by passing by the sleeping security guard watching over the airport), it turned out these were American warplanes refueling on their way to Iraq. When asked, the authorities told them these planes didn’t exist. When someone painted the planes’ windshields orange so they’d be a bit more visible, the authorities were embarrassed.
But the planes that officially didn’t exist also didn’t go away, and some people then engaged in what has become a long and honorable tradition. They took sledgehammers to the nosecones and other parts of some of the warplanes, causing millions of dollars in damage.
They were awaiting sentence when I saw them. They were preparing for what would likely be long jail sentences. But unusually, the judge had allowed international law to be brought into the equation, and the defendants were allowed to bring expert witnesses like Scott Ritter onto the stand and to talk about the illegality of the war in Iraq, how it was based on lies and all that. And as I was leaving Dublin the next day I heard on the radio that the Pitstop Plowshares 5 had been found not guilty.
As with a similar case in England ten years before, a jury had essentially found that what the government was doing was illegal, and what the activists did was an effort at law enforcement.
There was a general state of elation for a little while on the Irish left, it seemed, a little sense of vindication. And, not to rest on any laurels, the next day I’m watching the news in my hotel room and there’s a woman who came to the benefit in Dublin, getting dragged off by the cops for disrupting a speech of George Bush Sr. during his little visit to Ireland.
The last gig on my little Irish tour was in Derry, a lovely town which has also benefitted from Celtic Tigerhood. Among the new employers in town is Raytheon, where lots of software developers work. The Derry City Council was assured that no military-related work would be going on there. But word had gotten out that they were designing software for guided missiles, and Raytheon was a popular subject of conversation when I was passing through.
A couple months later I heard from my friend Fiachra, from Donegal (for which Derry was traditionally the capital city, before partition). He tells me that nine people, representing between them three different political parties, went into the Raytheon plant and started throwing computers and filing cabinets out the windows. It took the police eight hours before they got around to storming the place and arresting them. Perhaps smelling the wind after the acquittal of the Pitstop Plowshares, Raytheon has apparently been reluctant to press charges or otherwise publicize the event.
It’s enough to give one a momentary sense of optimism. With heroic people like the Pitstop Plowshares and the Raytheon 9, and sensible judges and juries like those that acquitted these sledgehammer-wielding women and men, who knows what could happen.