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'We were right all along': organisers of huge 2003 Dublin march against Iraq War

Some 100,000 Irish people protested on 15 February 2003 to oppose the invasion.

A boy painted with the peace symbol joins in the 2003 Dublin protest against the Iraq War
A boy painted with the peace symbol joins in the 2003 Dublin protest against the Iraq War
Image: Rollingnews.ie

ON 15 FEBRUARY 2003, with the storm clouds of the Iraq war gathering, worldwide protests took place against the impending US-UK invasion.

Between 8 million to 30 million people took part in co-ordinated protests in 60 countries, a mass gathering described as the largest protest event in world history.

While around a million turned out in London, Ireland saw perhaps the highest per-capita protest, with around 100,000 people turning out to oppose forthcoming invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance was chief steward of the march, with exclusive responsibility for co-ordinating the huge event with An Garda Síochána.

Cole told TheJournal.ie that the UK’s political, intelligence and military mistakes detailed in the Chilcot Report justified the huge outpouring of opposition from the Irish public.

I think we were right, the war has been an unmitigated disaster, the worst decision made by UK, US and the Irish government.
As you know, 2.5 million troops have gone through Shannon Airport, so we’ve aided and abetted the Iraq war, and all the American wars since then.

TD Richard Boyd Barrett of the Irish Anti-War Movement helped to organise the February 2003 march. 

Skeleton

He told TheJournal.ie that it was an unprecedented event, one of the biggest marches in Irish history, and a tremendous demonstration of solidarity with people thousands of miles away.

It was an extraordinary cross sector of Irish society, every corner of the country, young and old – I think it was just knowing the justifications were dishonest and a great crime was going to be committed. It was an expression of solidarity.
What was extraordinary is that it was unselfish march, a demonstration and statement of solidarity with people halfway around the world. It’s just a pity that the people’s voices was ignored.

Boyd Barrett said the vindication the anti-war movement received in Chilcot comes “too late” to help the thousands who have suffered in Iraq since then, and the dire consequences there and in Syria.

I think it absolutely vindicates those of us who organised and mobilised against the war in Iraq, and confirms that what we said – this was an illegitimate, immoral and almost certainly illegal war, was correct.
It further increases the shame on the Fianna Fail government in the day to allow now up to 2 million troops through Shannon airport.
The decision to allow troops through Shannon made us directly complicit, and shredded any idea of Irish neutrality.

warprotest2 Protestors wore Blair and Bush facemasks

Healthcare worker, Peter Behan, 54, from Palmerstown, was also on the march 13 years ago. He told TheJournal.ie:

It was the biggest march I’d been on since the PAYE marches in the 80s. There was a great buzz around the place, it was a nationwide protest, people were coming into Connolly and Heuston, there were more than 100,000 I think to be honest. It was a special day.

Like many other marchers, Behan believed no good would come of the war.

It’s caused the problems they’re experiencing now with Isis and other groups. You’d feel sorry for those poor families who lost lives in the world. Blair is the real terrorist in some ways, and Bush was no better.

Shannon

The use of Shannon Airport as a stopover for US troops was a huge reason for the size of the Dublin march.

Coffin A mock coffin in carried in the 2003 Dublin protest against the Iraq War

Cole quotes a Red C poll in March of this year that shows that six out of 10 Irish people oppose the use of the Shannon Airport by the US military, which continues to this day.

The war still isn’t over, 250 people got killed in Iraq in one bombing this weekend. You’re talking about thousands and thousands of people being killed as a result of the Irish government’s decision to take part in the 2003 invasion.

2003 Protest  2 Crowds thronged Dublin's streets for the 2003 protests

Cole added that the 100,000 figure was an estimate by Garda Superintendant John Keenan, with whom he had negotiated the route months in advance.

“I think we have a deeply rooted opposition to these never-ending wars. 
About a month before the actual march, Superintendant Keenan rang us up, because their feedback was that it was going to be much bigger than before.
When I met him on the day of the march, he said there were 100,000. It could have been more. There were so many people there, it was impossible to count. It took me by surprise.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna also spoke at the 2003 Dublin rally, having recently returned from a cross-party trip to Iraq with colleagues from the European Parliament.

Adi Roche Adi Roche at the 2003 Dublin protest against the Iraq War

She recalls visiting a country that was in a “horrendous state - especially in southern Iraq, around Basra”.

Gormley Former Green Party leader John Gormley joins the 2003 Dublin protest against the Iraq War

The population in those areas were still suffering from the depleted uranium used in the First Gulf War, while the country at large wilted under UN sanctions imposed on Saddam’s regime.

McKenna told TheJournal.ie:

There was no evidence in the country of Weapons of Mass Destruction when I visited Iraq. So the Chilcot report’s findings were expected from our point of view.

Cole McKenna Roger Cole and Patricia McKenna discuss, in Dublin, opposition to the 2003 Iraq War

“And there’s a major problem, our government facilitated participation in the war. They were culpable.
There should be an international tribunal to hold to account George Bush and Tony Blair – and also those who facilitated them, like Bertie Ahern. 
“Ahern was given all the evidence, he was shown what was going from our delegation and by UN experts, like Hans Blix, but still allowed Shannon to be used for wrong reasons. Blair is criticised in Chilcot, but we didn’t elect Tony Blair – we elected Bertie Ahern, who had a moral, political and legal obligation to respect Ireland’s neutrality. He failed.”

Ahern later insisted he was always against the Iraq war, despite allowing the US to continue using Shannon Airport.

RTÉ’s archive video of the march is available here.

Shane Shane McGowan and Glen Hansard were among the artists who performed at the rally

2003 Protest  2

Read: Tony Blair led the UK into Iraq war before all peaceful options were exhausted

Read: Baghdad death toll now at 250, making it the worst bombing since the invasion

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