Dara McHugh talks to veteran political activist Margaretta D’Arcy
In October 2012, Margaretta D’Arcy walked onto the runway of Shannon Airport, the place from which “all crimes have come in, and all crimes have gone out.”
She entered the airport, alongside fellow peace activist Niall Farrell, “To have a conversation with the State, that the runway should not be used for military purposes. I was a witness to start the conversation.”
It has been a one-sided conversation, for the most part, but that is gradually changing. Following the Irish State imprisoning the then 79 year old for her action at Shannon, D’Arcy was invited to address the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in June, and spoke out against “the Monty Python scenario”, where “the Irish Army is there to protect the US military, who are there to destroy half the world.”
In July 2014, her trespass was replicated by Independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who were arrested after attempting to search US planes.
D’Arcy feels that the tide is turning and celebrates any impact, however small, she may have had on this. “Things are happening – Obama could not invade Syria, the House of Commons voted against the war in Syria. The climate is definitely changing against the concept of war. It doesn’t work. So many American families wondering what’s it all about when their sons come back, either in a body bag or maimed and injured with no life in front of them.
“So things are moving into the mainstream, after 15 years. But everything in this country, be it the Magdalene Laundries or the infected blood, takes years and years. Politically aware people understand that changes in this country happen because a few people persevere and then the masses begin to wake up and realise.”
D’Arcy’s long career of political activism has seen her often the champion of unpopular causes, “a little John the Baptist”, as she says. In England, she was part of the ‘Committee of 100’ that advocated for nuclear disarmament. As an Official Sinn Féin activist in Galway, she opposed the Irish State’s multinational-led development strategy, based on her experience of the damage the major corporations were doing in India.
When a member of the National Women’s Council executive, she was expelled after demanding that salary figures for the CEO be published. She spent many years involved in opposition to a cruise missile base at Greenham Common and protested against the bureaucracy of the arts group Aosdána of which she was a founding member.
Although many historical atrocities of the State have been exposed, and seemingly put in the past, D’Arcy feels that the lessons of these experiences have not been learned. “I feel in this country, that people look at the past with weeping and wailing on the Joe Duffy Show. But let’s objectively look at what’s happening now, which is the new big crisis, direct provision for migrants. In jail we get paid the same amount as the people in direct provision, the only difference is they don’t know when they’ll be released.”
The anti-war movement in Ireland has dwindled, but D’Arcy feels that a mass movement is not necessary for individual action. “Any little intervention helps because it’s part of the collective. We look at the collective in a global way, rather than ‘you have to have a mass of people at that particular time’. I feel I am part of a massive movement.”