Limerick peace activist avoids jail for damaging US Navy plane

Limerick peace activist Edward Horgan.

A 78-year-old Limerick peace activist avoided a jail sentence when he was acquitted of a criminal damage charge for damaging a US Navy plane at Shannon Airport almost six years ago.

Retired Army Commandant Edward Horgan of Newtown, Castletroy and his co-accused Dan Dowling (39) of Grace Dieu, Waterford were found guilty of trespass at the airport and  ordered to pay €5,000 each to a women’s refuge in County Clare.

Both men had denied criminal damage of the plane at Shannon on April 25, 2017.

During their ten-day trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, they said that the acts had been carried out from an honestly-held belief that they were necessary to protect others.

The men, who represented themselves, also pleaded not guilty to entering the curtilage of Shannon Airport as trespassers, with the intention to damage property there.

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After just under four hours of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts on the trespass charges.

Passing sentence on Wednesday, Judge Martina Baxter praised both men  for their “upstanding character, composure and dignity” at all stages during the trial.

“You are upstanding people, family people; you have behaved with courtesy and dignity throughout,” said Judge Baxter, wishing both men and their families well.

She said there was no issue with the men continuing their monthly peaceful protests, but warned them that they must be peaceful.

“Your families are better off with you with them,” Judge Baxter said in explaining why she was not imposing a custodial sentence.

However, she criticised them for “running across the airport in the dark of night,” and  potentially exposing airport staff to danger.

“What if a plane had to do an emergency landing? It was a workplace, and you had the potential to cause serious damage in terms of your presence alone,” added Judge Baxter.

She said both men had no previous convictions, good work histories and had done volunteer work, which had informed her decision to order them to give a token to local charities.

The judge asked the investigating Garda to recommend a local charity before ordering them both to pay €5,000 each to the Clare Haven Refuge for women within the next 12 months.

She emphasised that this was not a fine, but a financial gesture, and further ordered the men to be of good behaviour and keep the peace for 12 months.

Judge Baxter asked the two men whether they accepted the jury verdict and they replied that they did.

It was the State’s case that Dowling and Horgan gained access to a taxiway at Shannon Airport, with the intention of causing damage to aeroplanes parked there, which were the property of the US Navy.

It was alleged they were involved in writing “Danger, danger, don’t fly” on the planes using markers, after ignoring a request made by Irish Defence Force personnel to stop.

In his  address to the jury, Dan Dowling said the act of criminal damage was justified to draw attention to a threat to others, which could then be ameliorated or alleviated.

Edward Horgan said the damage caused had no monetary value and the acts had been carried out from an honestly-held belief that they were necessary to protect others.

He described himself as a peace activist who was trying to do what was right.

Talking to reporters after the judgement, Mr Horgan said: “We won’t be celebrating today. We will be commemorating all the children killed in the Middle East – up to one million children – and unfortunately still being killed as we speak.”