The Criminal Courts of Justice
A belief that their actions were lawful does not need to be justified if it is honestly held, a judge has told the trial of two peace activists alleged to have damaged an airport runway.
Colm Roddy, 78, and Dave Donnellan, 60, are alleged to have cut through a perimeter fence at Shannon airport to gain entry to the airfield and to have then painted crucifixes on the runway.
Mr Roddy of Bayside Walk, Dublin and Mr Donnellan of Reuben Street, Rialto, Dublin were stopped on the runway. They then asked army and garda officials to search a US Learjet which they were guarding.
Both men have told the trial that their actions on the day were a protest against the use of Shannon airport by US military. They assert that the presence of US military planes and troops is a breach of Irish neutrality and has, according to international law, turned the airport into a legitimate target for enemy combatants of the US.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to criminal damage without lawful excuse of the fence and runway at Shannon Airport on May 5, 2016.
The jury of eleven men and one woman began deliberations shortly before 1pm.
On day nine of their trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Karen O'Connor told the jury that the charges allege that the accused damaged the fence and runway without lawful authority or lawful excuse.
She said that the law allows for a defence where a defendant acted in order to protect himself or another and his actions were reasonable in the circumstances as he believed them to be.
Judge O’Connor reminded the jury of the evidence that Mr Donnellan said his actions were faith- based peace actions to protect human life. She said that Mr Roddy told gardaí,
“I had lawful excuse, I was trying to prevent a much greater illegality which is going on in Shannon Airport”.
The judge told jurors they must decide if the behaviour of the accused was reasonable in the circumstances as each of them believed them to be.
“You must decide whether they believed their actions to be justified. It does not matter if the belief is justified or not as long as Mr Roddy and Mr Donnellan honestly hold the belief,” she said.
Judge O’Connor noted evidence that Mr Roddy told gardaí that he came to the airport to act according to his conscience and “sense of duty to fellow human beings”, to “try to stop damage...to innocent lives”.
Mr Donnellan told gardaí “our faith-based intention is the prevention of further loss of life”.
She said the onus was on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the excuse given by the defendants was not a lawful excuse.