Two men in their 80s accused of criminal damage and trespass at Shannon Airport were "the nicest and most courteous protesters" an airport officer had ever met, their trial has heard.
Richard Moloney, a former police fire officer at Shannon Airport, told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that Ken Mayers, 85, and 80-year-old Tarak Kauff told him they were going to check an American aircraft when he apprehended them on a taxiway at the airport in March 2019.
"They were very courteous. I had no hassle dealing with them," Mr Moloney told Tony McGillicuddy, prosecuting, today.
"They said they were peace protesters. I said, 'Unfortunately I have to hold you here for your own safety'."
Under questioning from defence counsel, Mr Moloney agreed it was immediately obvious to him that the men were protesters and he soon saw that they were elderly octogenarians.
"As the man says, this was not my first rodeo dealing with protesters," Mr Moloney said. "These were the nicest and most courteous protesters I ever met in my 19 years in Shannon Airport."
Mr Mayers and Mr Kauff, both with addresses in the US, are accused of damaging a perimeter fence to the value of €590, before allegedly trespassing the lands of the Co Clare airport.
Mr Mayers and Mr Kauff have each pleaded not guilty to three counts in relation to the alleged incident.
Mr Mayers, of Monte Alte Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico, has pleaded not guilty to criminal damage to a perimeter fence at the airport on 17 March 2019.
He has also pleaded not guilty to trespassing the curtilage of a building with the intent to commit an offence or unlawfully damage property.
He has further pleaded not guilty to interfering with the operation, safety or management of an airport, namely by entering a runway area and causing it to close.
Mr Kauff, with an address at Arnold Drive, Woodstock, New York has pleaded not guilty to the same charges.
The jury has been told that both men admit they were involved in "making an opening in the fence at Shannon Airport" and they admit entering the airport lands on the day in question.
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Mr Moloney told the trial that he was on duty in the airport when he was alerted to the fact that two people were on taxiway 12.
He said the men were wearing high-vis vests with "Veterans for Peace" emblazoned on them and were walking towards taxiway 11. One of them was holding a document with a picture of an Omni Air aircraft on it, he said.
The court heard Omni Air is a civilian airline, which also transports American military personnel.
Mr Moloney said that on the day in question, an Omni aircraft that had transported US military was awaiting maintenance on the airfield.
Mr Moloney said the men were also holding a folded document in their hand, which the court heard was a banner. The jury was shown a photograph of Mr Mayers and Mr Kauff outside the airport holding a banner saying: 'US veterans say respect Irish neutrality. American war machine out of Shannon Airport'.
Mr Moloney said he asked the men if they had permission to be on the airfield before they told him they were peace protesters and were there to check American aircraft. They were then taken to the airport where they were met by gardaí.
The court heard the airport had to be shut down while the airfield was secured. Mr Moloney said he then did a patrol of the perimeter fence before finding a hole had been cut in it.
Airport duty manager Ray Pyne told the court that he took the decision to shut the airport down. During this period, which he said lasted about 30 or 40 minutes, two airplanes that were due to depart were held on the ground.
At the same time, a Turkish Airlines cargo plane, which was due to land, had to stay in the air until given clearance to land, the court heard.
Garda Noel Carroll, who was stationed at Shannon Airport at the time, gave evidence of the arrest of Mr Mayers and Mr Kauff.
He told Michael Hourigan, defending Mr Mayers, that Mr Mayers was refused bail by the district court and spent 13 days in Limerick Prison. He agreed that gardaí opposed bail on the basis that Mr Mayers was not an Irish national and might not turn up at his trial.
Mr Mayers appealed the decision to the High Court and was granted bail, the court heard. Mr Hourigan said his client was unable to return to the US for nine months before he eventually returned home.
"Despite what the gardaí feared, he has returned on each and every occasion and he is here today," Mr Hourigan said. Garda Carroll agreed.
Garda Pat Keating, the member in charge at Shannon Garda Station on the day of the men's arrest, told the court Mr Mayers and Mr Kauff were "the best custodians I've had in 25 years".
The trial continues before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury.