Statement of Bishop Willie Walsh, Killaloe – The Threat of War and the use of Shannon Airport

22 Jan 2003


22 JANUARY 2003



Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of The Most Rev William Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe


Our world lives right now under the frightening threat of war as The United States and
Britain count down to a possible attack on Iraq.

This “preparation for war” has immediate consequences for Ireland and specifically for
us in this region in that Shannon Airport is being used for the passage of troops and
possibly arms for deployment against Iraq.

This use of Shannon Airport has given rise to much heated debate. For some it is only
natural that we should allow the use of these facilities to a nation that has always
been a friend to Ireland Allowing the use of Shannon to US troops does not in any
way compromise our position on neutrality. Again they will argue that refusing the
use of Shannon would weaken our position internationally in trying to negotiate a
peaceful solution to the crisis. Workers at Shannon fear that refusing its use would
be a serious threat to jobs in the area. It is all too easy for us to dismiss this
latter consideration when our jobs are not the ones at risk.

For others the use of Shannon Airport is in itself taking an active role in the proposed
war which is going to bring death and destruction to millions of people. They believe
that we cannot claim to be neutral while we facilitate the troops on their way to this
war. They feel an obligation to protest against the use of the Airport and their position
ought to be respected. Their peaceful protest challenges us that we cannot selfishly
ignore this appalling threat to the lives of so many people.

I believe that it is very difficult to make a definitive moral judgement on this issue.
One could easily argue that even if we refused the use of Shannon to US troops they would
be facilitated elsewhere. I do believe however that the use or non use of Shannon is not
the real issue here. The real issue is whether or not this war can be justified.

I believe that the war cannot be justified. The Holy Father in his Christmas Blessing
said that a new war in the Middle East is entirely avoidable and is not the way to fight
terrorism. He again appealed last week to world leaders to have the courage to say “no
to war”. He said that military force must always be “the very last option” even when
motivated by legitimate concerns. Many argue quite cogently that such a war would be
unjustified and counterproductive.

According to a UN agency a war will place 10 million Iraqi civilians at risk of hunger
and disease and give rise to perhaps a million refugees – all that added to possible
thousands of deaths.

War can at times solve problems in the short term but the history of war indicates that
they solve little in the long term but cause enormous death and destruction and lay the
seeds for future conflict at a later stage.

The proposed war against Iraq might very well remove the immediate threat posed by the
weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Sadam Hussan. But what of the death
and destruction and suffering of millions of people? And in the longer term what is it
going to do so heal the divisions between the Muslim World and the Western World? Is it
really going to help in the battle against terrorism?

We have had much talk on “war against terrorism” ever since September 11. It is right that
we should make every effort to oppose terrorism from whatever source it comes and for
whatever cause it is advanced. But the seeds of terrorism are usually found in injustice
of some form. “If you want peace you must work for justice” is a truly wise adage.

At the very time when preparations are being made for war there is a threat of famine for
millions of people in the Horn of Africa. Surely a “war against hunger” is more urgent
than a “war against terrorism” The ultimate weapon against terrorism is the fight against
injustice wherever this may be happening.

I believe that moral justification for this war against Iraq does not exist. We cannot
justify the terrible violence which will inflict so much suffering on millions of innocent
people on the basis of a possible threat to us.

There is room for diversity of opinions on the use or non- use of Shannon Airport for the
passage of US troops. I believe however that this proposed war is unjustified and that
we as Christians should voice our opinion against it in every possible peaceful way which
is available to us.

22 January 2003

Further information:
Fr Gerry Kenny
Diocese of Killaloe
065 682 8638
086 809 4409