Irish Independent

THE BUSH VISIT : Ireland on Red Alert
Irish Independent
Saturday March 20th 2004

Following the Madrid bombings, George Bush's trip in June will see the most
awesome display of firepower ever on Irish soil - along with massive protests
against a visit which could put us on the terrorists' hitlist. Willie Dillon

Plain-clothes US Marines with barely concealed weaponry. The deadliest modern
fighter planes patrolling Irish skies. US destroyers and nuclear submarines
keeping watch around our coast. George Bush's minders will be taking no chances
when he comes to Ireland in June to discuss US/EU relations with Bertie

The arrival here on June 25 of the most unpopular American president in
recent history will spark the most fearsome security operation ever seen in this
country. And it will be the catalyst for massive anti-war demonstrations to
rival, and maybe surpass, last year's huge turnout in Dublin.

For two days, Ireland will become the focus of all European opposition to
Bush. Huge numbers of protesters from all over Europe are expected to come here
to vent their frustration against the invasion of Iraq. The eyes of the world
will be on us; and potentially too the eyes of international terror groups for
whom the propaganda value of killing Bush at this time would be immense.
More worryingly for the rest of us, a terror attack on Irish soil - possibly
against defenceless citizens - would be seen by extremists as highly
significant during the US leader's brief visit.

Make no mistake about it, the country will be in a high state of upheaval
while Bush is here. The likelihood is that he will be kept well away from the
madding crowds. The word at present is that he will be spirited under heavy guard
to Kenmare, where he will be enveloped by the most awesome fire power ever
seen on Irish soil.

Consultations between the gardai and US security personnel have already
begun. The gardai insist they will be in charge throughout the visit. However,
anti-war campaigners believe that in reality the American secret service will
dictate their terms and will tolerate no disagreement from anybody.

By the very nature of these things, it is impossible to say exactly what will
happen. The White House won't be issuing any press releases detailing the
extent of the presidential arsenal. In fact, it is likely the full list of
weaponry won't even be revealed to the Irish authorities.

But one man who is uniquely positioned to gauge the size of the security
operation is former Irish army commandant and UN peacekeeper Edward Horgan, now a
prominent peace activist. He believes the Americans will leave nothing to
chance in protecting Bush. They will have massive fire power on hand capable of
dealing with a worst-case terrorist attack on the president.

He estimates the Bush entourage will include anything up to 1,000 security
personnel - and that's not counting those in the air and off the coast. The
security presence will be far heavier than for the visit of any previous US

"The level of terrorist threat against Bush is much more direct, immediate
and much more serious."

He believes that each individual US security person on the ground will be
carrying at least one automatic pistol, along with a small assault rifle or sub
machinegun capable of discharging hundreds of rounds a minute.

Controversially, the Americans may also demand the right to deploy the deadly
Saracen Raptor 3 security vehicle. It carries no military markings; in fact
it could easily be taken for a civilian four-wheel drive van. It is equipped
with a deceptively titled but devastating feature called a 'mini gun' which
emerges from the roof and is capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute. The
Americans were refused permission to use this weapon when Bush visited Britain last

According to Mr Horgan, the Americans will have "very serious hardware" in
the air to protect against a terrorist onslaught from the skies. These will
include Blackhawk attack helicopters and probably at least a couple of A-10 'tank
buster' aircraft.

The latter is a slow-moving attack aircraft with heavy fast-firing cannon. It
is very effective in mountainous terrain. That would make it ideal for use in
Co Kerry, should Mr Bush go to Kenmare. "One of these could demolish the GPO
in a matter of seconds. One or two runs up and down O'Connell Street would
turn the street into a heap of rubble."

Mr Horgan believes these are likely to be supported by a dozen faster and
much more modern F-16 fighter planes - with possibly a similar number again in
reserve in Britain.

Overseeing the US airborne presence will probably be a fleet of AWAC radar
planes - flying control towers. He estimates there will be at least one of these
per province, with others providing back-up from Britain. And it is reasonable to assume the presence of a Stealth aircraft, so high above the clouds that nobody except the Americans themselves will know they're there.

On Ireland's own air defences, Mr Horgan says we have just a small number of
Swedish made RBS-70 anti-aircraft missiles. These date from the 1970s and are,
in his opinion, obsolete. He says we would need thousands of these to secure
and protect Irish air space.

Horgan says the claim by Defence Minister Michael Smith that we can control
the skies up to 10,000 feet is untrue. "We have a number of weapons that can
fire up to 10,000 feet, but that is absolutely not the same thing as controlling
our air space up to that height."

He believes that if Bush lands in Shannon, he will travel to Kenmare by
helicopter - but not overland, as it could be difficult to secure the terrain. He
would therefore fly over the sea, his journey monitored by US destroyers, and
probably a nuclear submarine. "The Irish skies will be absolutely in the hands
of the US. They will know every movement of every plane, even the smallest

Mr Horgan says the most worrying aspect of all is the immunity demanded by
the Americans should they kill any demonstrators here. The likelihood, he
believes, is that the Irish Government has already given them that immunity.
"The Irish defence forces and the gardai don't have the capability to protect
Bush adequately - that's a fact. There were more police deployed in London
when Bush was there last November than the complete strength of the Irish police

He says the British security forces were able to retain control over the Bush
visit there because they have the kind of defence capability Ireland just
does not have. The taking over of Ireland by a foreign military power would have
very serious constitutional implications. He believes the visit should be
called off on public safety grounds.

"I'm very concerned there will be an attack in Ireland and I'm fairly sure
that it won't be on George Bush. It would be impossible militarily to take him
out in Ireland. They won't bother in fact. They will do what they did in

"My real concern is for Dublin. The people targeted will be innocent
commuters on trains, on the Dart, or in the centre of the city. I don't wish to sound
alarmist, but I think we need to look at what happened on 9/11 and in Madrid.
These people are crazies.

"I do not in any way support what the terrorists are doing, but Madrid was a
direct result of the attack on Iraq. Anyone who says otherwise is deliberately
confusing the issue. The terrorists we are now seeing have been created by US
aggression, not the other way around."

However, the Irish Goverment is standing firmly by its view that the use of
Shannon by American forces doesn't make us a potential terrorist target. An
Irish EU presidency spokesman says: "We are not involved in the war in Iraq. We
have no troops involved in it. So there is no reason for us to be specifically
targeted for attack."

And he insists that it is the gardai - not the US secret service - who will
call the shots when Bush comes here. He says the Americans will not be given
shoot-to-kill immunity, adding that they have not even asked for it.

"We get requests all the time from visiting heads of state for permission for
their security people to carry guns. These requests are usually refused. They
are granted only on rare occasions."

However, anti-war protesters argue the Government is merely engaging in a
form of Jesuitical word play over Shannon. The official position is we are
'providing facilities' at Shannon for transiting US forces. But how does
facilitating somebody differ from offering support or assistance? The spokesman responds
that the long-standing arrangement with the Americans at Shannon "is not an
involvement in war".

Green MEP Patricia McKenna says the Government's position on Shannon simply
defies reality.

"We believe firmly the war in Iraq was illegal and so do many legal experts.
George Bush went in there and killed loads of innocent people without any
legal legitimacy. If you help someone to carry out an illegal act, you are
facilitating it, you are playing a role in it. You are not actually pulling the
trigger or dropping the bomb, but you're facilitating the dropping of that bomb."

She also strongly rejects any suggestion that the protests in June will be
anti-American. "Oh that's absolutely untrue. I feel the vast majority of
Americans, even some of whom may have voted for George Bush, now think that what he
did was a mistake. He's done untold damage to the credibility of America
internationally. When I was in America, I met some incredible people who were
protesting against the war, including organisations representing the victims of 9/11
who were completely against the war."

Protest organiser Roger Cole says there will be two big protests when Bush is
here - one in Dublin and one as close as possible to Mr Bush's Irish base. He
expects the turnout to exceed the 100,000 people who marched in the capital
in February 2003.

The organisers will be working hard to get as many European demonstrators as
possible to come here for the event. They hope the numbers will be further
swelled by environmentalists and gays protesting at Bush's policies in those

He believes the Taoiseach's position on Shannon, with the resultant risk of
terror attack, has put the lives of Irish citizens in danger. "Bertie Ahern has
totally reneged on the fundamental role of a Taoiseach - to protect his

"Bush keeps on saying that this is not a visit to Ireland, but a visit to
Europe. So Europe should give him the welcome he deserves. Our message will be
'Bye Bye Bush and Bye Bye Bertie'," says Cole, a Labour party candidate in the
June local elections.

Today anti-war protesters will take to the streets of Dublin to mark the
first anniversary of the Iraq invasion. Compared to last year's march, it will be
relatively small. The really big one will be the Mother Of All Protests when
George Bush arrives here in June.
© Irish Independent

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