Irish President Confronted In New York By Veteran’s Families Over Neutrality Violation

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Above photo: Zaidie confronts Irish President Michael Higgins.

UPDATE: No Movement in Veterans’ Case to Be Allowed to Leave Ireland

Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers remain in Ireland with their passports confiscated and no relief in sight. On Sept. 30, the Ennis Circuit Court postponed any decision on their motion to move their case to Dublin, a key requirement for them to be able to get their passports back.

The two members of Veterans For Peace were arrested March 17 for going onto the airfield at Shannon Airport to demand that police inspect a U.S.-military contracted plane believed to be carrying U.S. troops and weapons on their way to illegal wars in the Middle East. These flights, which have been passing through Shannon Airport since 2001, are in violation of Irish neutrality and international law. After being held in jail for nearly two weeks, Mayers and Kauff were released on 2500 euros bail each and forced to surrender their passports. They have been unable to return home for nearly seven months.

New York City – Irish President Michael D. Higgins was on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning. He spoke compassionately at length about immigration and migration and refugees. The last caller, who was included because she was calling from Dublin (audio below), asked him why the Irish government allowed the U.S. to violate its neutrality with its military flights through Shannon to the very wars that were creating those refugees. And she also asked about the case of two U.S. military veterans who had been held in Ireland since March after nonviolently protesting those flights. While he ducked around the neutrality question, he said that he was “familiar with the case” of the veterans and, although he could not interfere, he would “bring it to Government’s attention.”

President Michael D Higgins was doing an interview with WYNC, during which Ellen Davidson, wife of Tarak Kauff, rang into the show.

Ms Davidson, who lives in Manhattan but is currently based in Dublin, said:
“I understand President Higgins is a big supporter of Irish neutrality so I’m wondering why the Irish Government is allowing US military flights to go through Shannon Airport in violation of that neutrality, bringing troops to the Middle East, to the wars that cause the refugees he’s been talking about.

“And, also, about the case of two US veterans who did a peaceful protest against those flights in March and they’ve been held in Ireland ever since, without their passports, on very minor charges, for a peaceful protest.”

President Higgins responded:

“Yes, I think that your caller will know these are issues, when I was a member of parliament, I spoke and acted very often. I do think that the issue – the two people whose case I am familiar – is a matter for Government and I will draw the attention of Government to it.

“But you’ll appreciate that as president, I cannot interfere in the  executive decisions of Government.”

Then, in the afternoon, Ken Mayers’ granddaughter Zaidie Cooper Barnard-Mayers and members of New York City Veterans For Peace spoke with him at an event at the public library. They gave him a brochure about the case, and he said that he was familiar with Tarak and Ken’s peace walk through Ireland. He held Zaidie’s hand while they spoke and, according to VFP NYC President Susan Schnall, really listened. Here is a brief video of Susan and Zaidie by Hideko Otake. Notice how “Mama Lion” Schnall refuses to be put off by Higgins’ handlers, and Hideko similarly doesn’t let them stop her from filming.

Update Sept. 30, 2019

U.S. military veterans Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers have finished three weeks of Boots on the Ground for Freedom, in which they walked through Ireland to support Ireland’s neutrality, to protest its role in facilitating U.S. wars in the Middle East, and to demand that they be allowed to return home to the United States. Meanwhile, the Ennis Circuit Court postponed a key decision on moving their case to the Dublin Circuit Court, a key step in the process of getting their bail conditions changed to allow them to leave Ireland (see details and video blog).

Here are some video blogs about their 21-day series of walks through the northwest of Ireland:

Freedom Walk: Episode 1
Freedom Walk: Episode 2
Freedom Walk: Episode 3
Freedom Walk: Episode 4
Freedom Walk: Episode 5
Freedom Walk: Episode 6
Freedom Walk: Episode 7

And here is a report from Ken about their adventures walking around Ireland:

As most of you  you know, we finished our “Boots on the Ground for Freedom” stroll around parts of Ireland on Thursday.  Finished for the time being, at least.  If the High Court refuses our request for changed bail conditions, we will plan some more walks.

The last several days were spent in Donegal, which several unbiased observers (and there aren’t many of those in Ireland) told us is the most beautiful part of the country.  We can’t argue with that assertion based on what we’ve seen so far.  As for bias, we love the Irish people we have met, but I think the Irish may be the most chauvinistic people in the world — not Irish chauvinism but Kerry, or Mayo, or Leitrim or whatever county the individual calls his or hers.

Throughout the walk the hospitality we’ve received both from friends and in many instances from up-until-that-moment strangers has been fantastic. As one simple example of the latter category, after we completed the walk at Malin Head, we went back to a marvelous sustainability-oriented cafe for lunch.  Our host for that final stage, Gerard Moyne, paid for everyone in our party of six accept that the proprietor would not take money for Tarak’s and my lunch.  Here is an astonishing factoid we picked up from an educational display outside of the cafe: the basking sharks that spend part of the year at Malin Head filter through their gills  1800 tons of sea water every hour!

Along the way we met some amazing people.  The last mile or so of the walk up to Malin Head I walked with Liam McCloskey, a former IRA soldier who was one of the 13 survivors of the 1981 Hunger Strike.  He fasted on water and salt for 55 days, losing both sight and most of his hearing in the final days.  10 strikers fasted to the end, with death coming a few days after losing consciousness.  Liam realized that he was close to losing consciousness and knew that if he did, his mother would insist on having him force fed.  He did not want to put her in that position so he agreed to end the fast.  He slowly recovered his sight and most of his hearing although he remains partially disabled due to some brain damage from the hunger strike.  He has been a steadfast advocate of nonviolence since his recovery although he also remains a dedicated supporter of Republican Ireland.  He was anxious to speak with me because he wanted to get another perspective on the Palestinian issue.  Most Irish Republicans have a strong affinity for the Palestinians, laying the problem at the feet of imperial England.  But Liam has been reluctant to criticize Israel because of the persecution of the Jews over the centuries and especially because of the holocaust.  My perspective can best be summarized as this: the common response to the holocaust has been to say, “Never again!”  Israeli policies reflect a view that never again should such suffering be inflicted on Jews; in my view, never again should any people undergo that kind of suffering.  Yet Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people many of the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on Jews, Roma, gays and other “lesser beings.”  At the end, LIam said he now would feel less guilty criticizing Israel.  He also said that Tarak and I should get a few days rest.  I assured him that THAT would not happen.

Also remarkable were Donal (Domhnall Maccionnaith) and his Dutch wife, Myriam Rommers-Macionnaith who met while they were both working in Guatemala in the ’70s, Myriam as a nurse and Donal as a community development worker.  After the 1986 earthquake, the rising level of oppression from the government led to a strong guerrilla response from the peasantry.  Donal went to the mountains and joined the guerrillas.  Eventually he found his band being chased by government forces for 9 days, 24 hours a day.  He eventually eluded them and found his way back to Myriam, have lost 70 of his pre-struggle 160 pounds.  The story of their eventual escape to Nicaragua is the stuff of which a movie should be made.

Ed Horgan, Niall Farrell, and Mary Ryan all lined up media interviews for us along the way.  Several local papers gave us extensive coverage as did a couple of radio stations.  As a final touch, on Friday morning we were invited to talk to a class on Human Rights Law at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.  The students were very responsive.  Then we got on the road back to Limerick.

Along the way, we rendezvoused in Galway with Sharon Argenbright, president of the nurses union in Santa Fe with whom Pam and I had walked the picket line for 62 days a few years ago.  Sharon had been visiting Ireland for a week on her way to another week in Scotland, and Pam had dispatched her with a box of DELICIOUS (and now almost gone) peanut butter cookies.  Niall Farrell was also there to make a short video to wrap us his blog about our walk.  Sharon was a nurse at Ramstein AFB in 2003 so he interviewed her as well.

After a night at the Horgan house, Ed dropped us off at the bus to Dublin to begin another very full “day at the office” as we say.  From Dublin a taxi to Dun Laoghaire to drop of our bags at Gary Kilgallen’s house, which will be our base of operations for a while.  Then back to Dublin for a meeting with our solicitor, Michael Finucane (whose father was shot in the presence of his family during “the troubles.”  There’s no getting away from this stuff.)  We spent an hour with Michael going over the next legal steps.  [See details on the Sept. 30 court appearance.]

From that meeting we moved on to an event being held by the Irish Council on Civil Liberties where Ed Horgan was one of the panelists.  He introduced Tarak and me in the course of his remarks, after which we were invited to a post-event pub evening with open mike.  The organizer of the open mike asked us to sing our Shannon song, which we were happy to do. As usual the response was very positive.

Back when we were walking from Manorhamilton to the Glencar Waterfall, one of the supporters walking with us was a musician named Dee.  Her group was playing a gig in Greystones, south of Dublin, last night and she invited us to be her guests at the event.  So we left the ICCL event after our song and caught a DART train down to Greystones.  By the time we got there it was raining and we were wearing our down jackets instead of our raincoats, but there was nothing for it but to walk the kilometer to the venue in the rain.  It was well-worth it.  The music was simply terrific — best described as tribal, not the usual Irish jigs and reels.  The band was led by the bodhran (pronounced borahn – an Irish hand-held drum) player and comprised two Irish flutes of different sizes, a couple of guitars, a keyboard, a drumset, and our friend Dee on an amplified fiddle.  The bodhran player is reputed to be Ireland’s best and I certainly don’t doubt it.  The joint was jumpin’.  It was impossible not to move with the beat.  Dee had told us it would be fine to sing our Shannon song, but Tarak said to me, “I’m not singing in front this crowd.”

After we’d been standing in the back of the room for while the leader asked, “Are there any American’s in the room?  Don’t be ashamed, just admit it.”  And then, “Are there any American vets in the room?  Would you come up and say a few words?”  We each spoke very briefly and then I said, “We have a different kind of song to offer you,” trapping Tarak.  So we sang the Shannon song and the crowd went wild.  As we worked our way back to the back of the room, people were shaking our hands and hugging us and offering to buy us drinks.  It was quite a moment.  But we had to catch the last train out of Greystones up to Dun Laoghaire; so we walked the kilometer back to the station in the rain, and then another kilometer from the Dun Laoghaire station to Gary’s house.  We were well soaked, but happy.

Wage peace!!!