Which side are you on – that was the question posed last week during a peaceful protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from Syria and seven other mainly Muslim countries as well as the use of Shannon by US military.
Recalling the classic 1930s American trade union song, Cian Prendiville, AAA member of Limerick City & County Council, said, “There comes a time when a line is drawn in the sand and you have to decide which side you are on. Donald Trump has drawn such a line in the sand and every individual, every government and every organisation, needs to decide which side are they on”.
Prendiville asked, “Are you on the side of Trump and his war on Muslims, his war on women? Or are you on the side of those facing oppression, war and torture? Are you on the side of immigrants, whether Irish, Mexican or whatever in America. You have to decide, which side are you on?”
More than 100 people attended the event near Shannon Airport including academics, students, peace activists and political party members. Of the established parties, both the Greens and Sinn Féin were represented. The Green Party has taken a side against the US President’s controversial views on the environment. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, appears to have an each-way bet on President Trump having congratulated him on his recent election.
In the North, Martin McGuinness co-signed a letter wishing President Trump, “every success in your new role” and extending “an invitation to visit Northern Ireland. You can be assured of a warm welcome.” Meanwhile south of the border Gerry Adams told the Dáil that he too has written to President Trump but expressing his opposition to the US President’s policies.
Most of those gathered near Shannon Airport on a dark, cold, wintry night were not hedging their bets and knew exactly which side they were on. They included 5-year-old Luke O’Neill who had travelled from Pallaskenry with his mum Alanna. Luke had a tight grip on a poster declaring “Love Trumps Hate”.
Singer-songwriter Emma Langford from Limerick attended and was criticised on social media by someone who said, “Trump is dangerous but he isn’t our problem, we have enough of our own problems here. Why don’t these people use their time to help the homeless, help the suicide prevention team”. Emma responded by linking to articles about her own fundraising for homeless services and Pieta House, the national suicide charity. “I hope that’s productive enough for you,” she stated.
The protest was addressed by John Lannon of Shannonwatch, Edward Horgan of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, Leonie Kerins of Doras Luimni, Zoe Lawlor of the Irish-Palestine Solidarity Group and councillor Cian Prendiville. John Lannon stated that if President Trump’s order denies refugees the right to seek asylum, then it should not be allowed to operate at pre-clearance facilities on Irish soil. Mr Lannon produced a letter which he later delivered to airport director Niall Maloney at a Garda barrier complaining that the authorities were “protecting a racist and illegal immigration ban.”
Migrants rights campaigner Leonie Kerins, director of Doras Luimni, spoke of her shock at seeing a 5-year-old boy handcuffed at Washington’s Dulles Airport. Later the boy was released after being identified as a US citizen with an address in Maryland. Ms Kerins said questions must be asked of the Irish authorities if President Trump’s refugee ban is implemented here. She also suggested that the US is in breach of the Geneva Convention. She added, “We spoke to the airport authorities on Sunday morning to offer our advice and information services on immigration and let them know that we are available should anyone be affected by this.”
Cllr Cian Prendiville was critical of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s intention to attend the White House on St Patrick’s Day saying it gives President Trump “the very photo-op that he wants”. According to Prendiville the resistance to the Trump presidency has only just begun with large-scale protests across the US and in countries throughout the world.
Before concluding Cllr Prendiville again reminded those present that Sinn Féin have invited President Trump to visit Ireland. To loud applause he said, “They should now withdraw that invitation in response to this racist attack”.
When the speeches were finished, organisers marched about 100 hundred yards to a Garda barrier. After a short stand-off, John Lannon delivered his letter to airport director Niall Maloney and the protest ended peacefully.