Declan McGrath reflects on the making of this weekend’s Documentary on One production, The Occupation.
Growing up in Belfast through the 1970s and 1980s, in the midst of a dirty and nasty conflict, has made me doubtful that there is any such thing as a just war. We were told by the media that one side in the war (the British Army and their allies) was morally superior. Few from my community believed that, since the evidence on the ground was contradictory. Meanwhile, many people I knew justified the destructive violence of another side (Republican armed groups) as a necessary and legitimate reaction to injustice. Others declared an exasperated ‘pox on all their houses’ and claimed to stand above the whole conflict - an impossible position in practice.
Caught in various arguments about the right to bear arms and the justification for violence, I have since often thought that the most morally defensible position was pacifism, even if it is open to the counter argument of it being an abnegation of duty. Maybe that’s why I was attracted to the David versus Goliath tale of the Derry Anti-War Movement, when I heard it from my friend Michael Bradley, who now lives in Okinawa in Japan with his wife and family. Michael had come across the story when he was a journalist in Radio Foyle, the local BBC radio station in Derry. It was a story that he felt had never been covered properly and about which he felt left some questions unanswered.
In 2006, a group of men from the Anti-War Movement broke into the offices of a US multinational in Derry and caused over £300,000 worth of damage. The company, Raytheon Ltd, had been invited to the city by prominent politicians. It had also received financial support from governmental agencies for locating in the economically depressed city. Unsurprisingly, the men faced over three years in jail, with the added pressure of potentially being charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act - this is Derry in 2006, after all.
He goes on to describe proceedings thusly: "It was the good guys against the bad guys, which team are you on?"
The mens’ defence was certainly surprising. The protesters, nicknamed ‘The Raytheon Nine', proudly admitted causing all of the damage that they were accused of. Raytheon is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and the protestors, including veteran Derry politician, journalist and author Eamonn McCann, claimed that their actions were in the defence of others – innocent civilians who were being killed during the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) assault on Lebanon in 2006. One incident in particular motivated them. In July of that year dozens of civilians including women and children were killed in a village called Qana. It was said that a 1,000 pound bomb was used.
Yet the people the protesters claimed to be defending lived over 5000 miles away. Also, no weapons hardware was being made in Derry. Furthermore, there seemed to be no proof that it was Raytheon weapons that were being used by the IDF in Lebanon at that time. However, starting with a bail application lead by their barrister, fellow Derry man and GAA analyst Joe Brolly, the men asserted that Raytheon was involved and that by causing destruction to an office in Derry they were stalling war crimes in the Middle East. It seemed a fanciful defence, and one that was not popular with some people in the job-stricken city of Derry. In the documentary Joe Brolly refers to the trial as "Moral warfare". He goes on to describe proceedings thusly: "It was the good guys against the bad guys, which team are you on?"
He was also curious as to how a group of peaceniks could include in their ranks three dissident republicans who appeared to be linked to an organization that had committed its own war crime in the Omagh bombing.
In the documentary, Michael Bradley travels back to Derry to explore the story because he felt what happened during the trial (which took place in 2008) was not only intriguing, but had consequences throughout Ireland and beyond. One reason that many people, including myself, remained unaware of this story was that our own violent conflict in the North still dominated the news agenda. As a former journalist, one who had covered the initial break-in live on the radio, Michael explained that news gathering is a question of priorities and resources. So two other trials in Belfast received most of the attention at the time – one related to the Omagh bombing of 1998, and the other to the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast in January of 2005. That failure of journalism was something Michael wanted to explore. He was also curious as to how a group of peaceniks could include in their ranks three dissident republicans who appeared to be linked to an organization that had committed its own war crime in the Omagh bombing - it turns out that one can be against a particular war, or even the arms trade in general, without necessarily being a pacifist.
And so, as a producer I joined Michael in uncovering a story of a group of men whose action raises questions about our shared responsibility for what happens in our increasingly interconnected world. Many of us criticise what we perceive as the injustices and wrongs committed by humanity, particularly when those injustices and wrongs happen in faraway places. Yet few of us go so far as to consider how we ourselves may be complicit in that which we criticise. For the handful of protestors who broke into Raytheon, the most honest people in Derry were the Democratic Unionist Party ( DUP). They accepted that Raytheon in Derry may well have been linked with the supply of arms to the Israel Defence Forces, and therefore involved in bombings in South Lebanon in 2006. Furthermore, the DUP were content that any such action by the IDF was justified, and therefore they had no moral issue with Raytheon’s presence in the city. The rest of the political establishment, and many of the local populace, choose to believe that Derry’s support of Raytheon had nothing to do with the killing of people elsewhere - including the two Nobel peace laureates, John Hume and David Trimble, who welcomed the company to Derry on the steps of the city’s Guildhall in 1999 as part of a post-troubles’ peace dividend.
The ‘Raytheon Nine’ decided to shout out ‘not in our name.’ What happened when they did so is the fascinating tale of The Occupation.
Documentary On One: The Occupation - Saturday November 25th @ 2pm, RTÉ Radio 1, with a repeat on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday November 26th @ 7pm - listen to more from Documentary On One here.