On Thursday April 11th, An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern visited Limerick to open the new sports Arena Complex at the University of Limerick. He was meeting and greeting the usual suspects and putting on his pre-election smile for the camera. What the camera did not show was the fact that THREE SEPARATE PROTESTS were going on within yards of the stage. Handlers were overheard telling RTE to use close up shots of the podium and not to show the banners and gagged students.
A fancy stage was set up, a cabaret lunge band was playing in honour of Mr. Ahern and all UL's bigwigs put on their fancy robes and silly hats to sit and listen to Mr. Ahern do the honours for the official opening of the white elephant that is the UL Sports Arena.
Personally I had gone out to protest the continued, illegal, and covert use of Shannon airport by the US Air mobility Command in contravention of Article 28.3.1 of the Irish Constitution and without the knowledge or approval of the Irish public.
Our banner said "END MILITARY REFUELLING AT SHANNON" "NOT IN OUR NAME" and made reference to article 28.
Some American students also supported the call to end US use of Shannon and carried signs asking Mr. Ahern to end the stopovers. Most of the students were protesting about the fact that most elections are held mid-week when they are away from home in College and therefore do not have the opportunity to vote. Tens of thousands of students are disenfranchised this way. If we don't make it easy for young people to vote then they are less likely to do it when they get older.
Dozens of students held large banners and taped over their mouths to show that they felt they were being denied a voice. Slogans such as "NO VOICE-NO CHOICE" "BERTIE MUGABE?" and "PEACE PROSPERITY HYPOCRISY" showed what the students thought of an Taoiseach.
A third protest called for the Taoiseach to speak out against the atrocities carried out by the Israeli military in its current offensives in the west bank and Gaza.
Most of the protestors occupied the grass area to the left and rear of the stage where Bertie was speaking. Gardai and security operatives tried to prevent the protestors occupying the area, but as more protestors arrived they conceded that the students would get to stand on their own campus and express their views. How generous is that?
So while Mr. Ahern waffled on about his love of sport and what a lovely new building this was, he had nothing to say about the killing of innocent Palestinians, or the continued covert use of Shannon airport by the US military. He did agree to give about 60 seconds to the students about student voting, subject to prior agreement that they did not drum, or chant during the ceremony.
Some people did shout at the Taoiseach while he spoke, calling him a disgrace, but unfortunately the drums and the loud hailer stayed silent. I was told by an observer that he witnessed an FF handler instruct the media not to show the protest. None of the mainstream media interviewed us or photographed us.
A woman from the UL student paper An Focal did approach us and ask why we had come. I explained that I was angry that the Taoiseach had subverted the constitution and was allowing the US military to stop for gas and duty free at Shannon while en route to bomb innocent peasants in Afghanistan.
As Mr. Ahern entered the building some of the students followed in with small placards. (Ours was a bit too big for the door so I remained outside.) When Mr. Ahern re-emerged he briefly spoke to the crowd of students who were protesting about weekend voting. He gave them a minute at most and ensured them of his "commitment to democracy".
He had no answer for calls to uphold section 28 of the constitution and to halt US military pit-stops in Irish civilian airports. He was also silent about events in Palestine.
The entourage then slipped into the track building near the Arena which faces away from the main campus. About 10 of us slipped around the cordon and onto the track where the large windows of the track building gave the Taoiseach, the UL profs, and distinguished guests full view of our banner.
Mr. Ahern was in a corner by himself using his mobile when he spotted us entering the track. He smiled with gritted teeth and gave us a 'thumbs up' gesture. Can't say I believe he was any way amused at us.
When he left the building to re-enter the arena, accompanied by TD Willie O'Dea and Eddie Wade, (both running in Limerick East) he ignored all calls and questions on the use of the airport or defence of the constitution. We don't know if the DPP ever got the file we submitted at Henry St. Garda stn about the illegal use of the airport, or if Bertie was ever told of our complaint.
After another long round of schmoozing in the Arena, the FF boys re-emerged. We were still there and this time I took it upon myself to question Minister Willie O'Dea.
"Will you do your job and uphold the constitution?"
"I ALWAYS HAVE" he smiled as he walked quickly to his car, with Wade in tow.
"What about the illegal flights and article 28.3?"
"I'M AWARE OF THE CONSTITUTION"
When someone else standing closer asked Mr. O'Dea if he agreed with breaking the constitution to allow these flights, his answer was rather... short... to say the least. Mr. Wade didn't seem to want to say anything. The cars left for another engagement in the city (a clothing shop in urgent need of government attention).
How unsurprised I was when no mention was made of the protest that greeted Mr. Ahern. A full page fluff piece in the echo "AHERN STAYS OUT OF POLITICAL HOTWATER" caught my interest but it instead referred to the fact that Mr. Ahern did not partake in a dip in the pool in the newly opened arena.
So yet again, the TEFLON TAOISEACH makes another PERFECT VISIT of the country with no dissenting voices. There are no plans as yet for a team to investigate the mass delusion of UL students who seem to think they were actually protesting at the event. Obviously never happened, it would have been in the media surely?
I wonder what the Taoiseach's diary said about the day out in Limerick?
by Tim Hourigan - Green Party, Gluaiseacht,
Originally from http://www.indymedia.ie/