The Raytheon Nine on trial

IssueJune 2008
Feature by Robin Percival

The trial of the group known as the Raytheon Nine began in Belfast on 20 May . (Actually, only six of the defendants are in the dock. Three others are currently on remand in the Republic of Ireland on charges relating to dissident republican activity.) The trial began at the Crown Court on 21 May with about 50 people participating in a solidarity demonstration.

The basic facts about the incident at the Raytheon offices in Derry are clear. On 6 August 2006, a group of nine men, part of a larger demonstration gathered outside the building, successfully entered Raytheon’s offices and began to destroy computers (£20,000-worth according to the charge sheet) and threw out of the windows thousands of documents and papers.
Eight hours later, armed members of the police entered the building and arrested the nine under anti-terrorism legislation. They were subsequently charged with criminal damage and affray.

Raytheon kills children

The US-owned Raytheon Company is one of the largest purveyors of arms and munitions in the world. Its speciality is computer software used in the guidance systems of rockets and missiles.
It was a Raytheon guided-missile which was used by the Israelis to kill over 50 children sheltering in a bunker at Qana, southern Lebanon, on 30 July 2006 during the war with Hezbollah. It was this incident which triggered the call for an occupation of Raytheon’s offices in Derry.
Raytheon first came to Derry in 1999. At the official welcoming ceremony in Derry’s Guildhall, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, John Hume and the then first minister, David Trimble, publicly welcomed Raytheon to the city.
The whistle on its activities was blown by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and, following a seminar in Derry organised jointly by Afri and Children in Crossfire in October 1999 at which members of the PFC outlined the role of Raytheon as an arms manufacturer, the Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign (FEIC) was established with opposition to Raytheon as its focus.
FEIC organised a number of direct actions, including monthly vigils outside the Raytheon offices, an occupation of Raytheon’s offices in early 2003, and various forms of street theatre.
It succeeded in securing a motion from Derry City Council in January 2004 to reject the arms trade locally, and to seek further assurances from Raytheon that they are not involved in military-related work at their local software plant.
(This is the fig leaf behind which the political parties on the council hide. Raytheon’s public position is that the work done in Derry is for non-military purposes only, such as civilian air traffic control. This line, which is parroted by the Council, is still maintained despite the evidence of Raytheon workers and documents to the contrary.)
The decision to charge the nine men occupying the building was hardly surprising. What has been surprising are several of the decisions made by the courts in relation to the trial and the defendants.
At first all nine defendants were ordered, as a condition of bail, not to attend any public meetings (ie more than three people) to do with the wars in West Asia, Raytheon or the occupation of Raytheon. This requirement was subsequently dropped.
More recently, the prosecution successfully moved that the trial should be transferred from Derry to Belfast on the grounds that people in Derry were likely to be sympathetic to the Nine, or faced the possibility of intimidation.
Last November the judge instructed a compliant media not to mention the trial until it began including the application by the prosecution to have the trial moved to Belfast. The judge also ruled that any report about the gagging order itself would be deemed a contempt. Reports by the media of solidarity demonstrations were also banned. The media gag was lifted in February following an application for a judicial review from a member of FEIC.

NI politics and Raytheon

The presence of Raytheon in Derry is widely deplored through out the city, though inevitably there is a strong communal aspect to this opposition. Generally speaking members of the unionist community appear to have few objections to Raytheon.
There has developed a cross-party consensus not to rock the Raytheon boat because of the fear this might scare away other investors.
Sinn Féin have the most difficulty in justifying this to their constituency because it represents a radical departure from their previous position.
However it is in keeping with that party’s drift to the right and its support for the SDLP-inspired economic strategy of “economic development” led by US inward investment
. This has also meant that while there is widespread opposition to Raytheon it is not reflected in terms of demonstrations and public meetings. In part this has to do with the individual politics of the Raytheon Nine themselves.
Four of the nine are linked to the Socialist Workers’ Party (of whom Eamonn McCann would be the best known) but the other five are members of dissident republican organisations such as the 32 Counties Sovereignty Movement (the political wing of the Real IRA, the organisation responsible for the Omagh bomb) and the IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party, which split from Official Sinn Féin in 1974). There is a suspicion that their involvement in the Raytheon campaign has more to do with the argument with Sinn Féin rather than from a genuine anti-war and internationalist perspective.

A new politics?

It is much too early to say whether the actions of the Raytheon Nine constitute the beginning of a politics in the North which is radical and nonviolent.
My own view is that for such politics to develop in the North, disillusionment with the current direction of Sinn Féin needs to grow significantly. It is still early days in terms of the DUP/SF-led government, though the apparent decision to invite George W. Bush to the North will have shocked many Republicans.

Topics: Arms trade, Trials