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Adjournment Speech: Lee pays tribute to Margaretta D'Arcy for International Women's Day

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 4 Mar 2014

Lee commemorates International Women's Day and pays tribute to Margaretta D'Arcy, who is serving a three-month jail sentence for crossing the perimeter fence onto the tarmac at Shannon Airport, protesting its use as a war hub by the United States.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:13): International Women's Day will be marked with inspiring celebrations around the world. One of the creative actions will be the women's peace camp held in Shannon, Ireland. The camp has been organised to support Margaretta D'Arcy, who is serving a three-month jail sentence for crossing the perimeter fence onto the tarmac at Shannon Airport. That occurred in December 2012.

Margaretta and many others have taken a stand for peace, using courageous, non-violent actions to protest the continuing use of Shannon Airport as a war hub by the United States that facilitates the movement of troops from that country to theatres of war. This is the airport where Ireland has become a complicit partner in US rendition and a partner in facilitating the transportation of weapons of war. 'Rendition' is defined as the practice of sending a foreign criminal or terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners. Rendition has actually become synonymous with torture.

In 2014, Margaretta was imprisoned after she refused to sign a bond saying that she would not trespass on non-public parts of Shannon Airport. This story is all the more remarkable and inspiring given that Margaretta is a 79-year-old peace activist. She should not be in jail. She is in poor health and undergoing treatment for cancer. This International Women's Day, around the world, people are calling for Margaretta to be released from prison.

Despite Ireland's claimed neutrality, successive Irish governments have allowed Shannon Airport to be used by the US military to transit planes carrying out bombings in other countries-bombings that inflict an unknown number of civilian casualties. Amnesty International, the United Nations and the European Parliament have expressed serious concerns about the many stopovers at Shannon airport by CIA-operated aircraft. Regarding the actions of Margaretta and the growing opposition to Ireland's cooperation with the US, these people are protesting that Ireland could be complicit in US torture of prisoners by facilitating such flights.

Margaretta is dedicated to highlighting that the most devastating impact of war is on women and our children-both directly, from the killings and maimings of war, and by robbing dollars from the public purse. The trillions of dollars spent on war could end world poverty and provide a decent life to the world's poor and marginalised. Margaretta is also a veteran of the Greenham Common peace camp of the 1980s. This was a very historic and innovative women's action which opposed the US military placing cruise missiles on common land in England. This protest had a big win: there is no longer a cruise missile site, or any war base, in this part of England. That was also an inspiring action that led to the very historic women's peace camp at Pine Gap in 1983. Over 700 women gathered for a two-week action to highlight that Pine Gap, as a US base, should not be in Australia.

As we celebrate International Women's Day and its fine traditions, Margaretta's actions are a reminder that to dissent from a perspective of permanent war and austerity, and to demand the protection of life and the planet, is increasingly labelled as subversive and even criminal behaviour. While war criminals are allowed to pass through Irish airports, and financial criminals go unpunished, the Irish state has imprisoned an elderly woman, a pensioner, who has dedicated herself to highlighting, and working to prevent, war crimes.

Margaretta has called on Ireland's Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter, to stop defending the indefensible military use of the airport. She has stated that the Irish state has a responsibility to ensure the proper use of the airport and to protect against security threats. Regular peace protests are held at Shannon Airport calling for an end to the US military's use of the airport. I understand that the protests are held on a monthly basis and that this month's event is calling for the immediate release of Margaretta. The crowd at a recent protest included former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday and Irish MPs Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Senator Trevor O' Clochartaigh. It also included Vietnam veteran Joseph Bangert. This protest continues the work of Margaretta, protesting that the United States Armed Forces should not be allowed to use Shannon Airport routinely without any oversight or reporting on what they are transporting.

A ground-breaking research project mapping the US government's program of global rendition throws up more information about what Shannon Airport is used for. The rendition project contains a database of over 11,000 pieces of data on confirmed or suspected rendition flights and others flights from related carriers. It has been identified that over 350 of the flights came through Shannon Airport. The researchers behind the project are Dr Ruth Blakeley, of the University of Kent, and Dr Sam Raphael of Kingston University, London. The rendition flights database draws on testimony from detainees, Red Cross reports, courtroom evidence and flight records-including records provided by Shannonwatch, which document US flights in and out of Shannon Airport.

Margaretta is a talented artist. Her life is outstanding; it is truly inspiring. In 1961 she joined the anti-nuclear Committee of 100, led by the famous peace activist and philosopher Bertrand Russell. She has written widely and directed films-including Yellow Gate Women,a very interesting film about the attempts by the women of Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp to outwit the British and United States militaries at RAF Greenham Common with boltcutters and legal challenges. As I said earlier, that was very famous and they were successful. They mobilised women around the world and across England-and there is no longer a military base on Greenham Common.

Calls for Margaretta's release are gathering global support. Across Ireland, support is also growing. Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams has called for her release. He said:

Successive governments have failed to inspect any planes in Shannon and have allowed the continued militarisation of a civilian airport. Rather than addressing these issues, the state has focused its efforts on arresting and jailing a 79-year-old woman.

Margaretta D'Arcy has taken a stand for world peace. This International Women's Day is our opportunity to add our voices to the growing worldwide call to release Margaretta. Margaretta should be congratulated and thanked, not imprisoned.


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