- 20 Mar 01
ADRIENNE MURPHY, Hot Press writer and environmentalist was among seven people charged with sabotaging a Monsanto-owned GM sugar beet crop in Wexford last June. From the field to the courtroom, from taking a stand to taking the stand, this is her personal account of a tumultuous ten months. Pix: Cathal Dawson.
We first became aware that there was trouble looming last autumn, when the Gardam paid early morning visits to our homes. Their purpose: to question us about our involvement in the events which led to the damage of Monsanto s Wexford GM sugar beet trial on June 21st, 1998.
Aside from Richie Roche and Pauric Cannon, we were all involved in organising a Good Food Fair and Public Talk on Genetic Engineering which directly preceded the so-called sabotage which occurred that sunny June evening. John Seymour, who lives and farms in Wexford, had chosen Duncannon Fort an historic building overlooking the sea as the venue, partly because of its proximity to Arthurstown, where Monsanto s mutant plants were growing. The plan was to go and visit the test site after the talk, so that people could make a connection between what they d heard and the reality of the genetic contaminant, growing right there in local soil.
At Duncannon, John Seymour, Nuala Ahern MEP, and the TDs John Gormley and Joe Higgins spoke against the biotech industry and its dangerous and anti-democratic practices. It was an emotional day people felt angry and upset about the way GM food and crops were being foisted upon us, and they were appalled to hear of the risks that this haphazard, profit-driven technology presented to our health and environment.
After the Duncannon talk, about 70 people travelled to the nearby GM site. Several nights before, the crop had been almost entirely destroyed by a clandestine saboteur, who remains anonymous. When the group from the talk, including the politicians, arrived at what remained of the test site, there were gardam and Monsanto-hired private security men waiting for us. The security guys were dressed in camouflage and were filming us from behind hedges. This upset people, and was one of the factors that drove 30 of us under the barbed wire fence surrounding the GM sugar beet. Once inside, we rushed around trying to destroy what remained of the toxic plants, simultaneously dodging and debating with the seven or so policemen who tried to stop us. The protest was non-violent, and even good-natured, as the gardam later attested in court.
We stayed on the site for about 20 minutes, then left peacefully. The locals got into their cars and went home, and the many people who d travelled down from Dublin piled back onto the bus which we d hired specially for the day. Nobody was arrested, and nobody had their names taken by the guards.
We thought it was all over. Hence my shock to find the same Wexford guards calling to my Dublin flat several months later. I had written an article in Hot Press describing what had happened, part of which the guards read out to me, asking me to confirm that I was the author.
Some way into the interview my nervousness began to abate; I knew that I had nothing to hide. But I was puzzled as to how the Gardam had found out where I and my friends lived. Soon we realised that only a small group of us were being questioned. This prompted the question: why had the seven of us been singled out, when at least 20 other people also damaged the crop?
One of the most revealing things to emerge from the Arthurstown Seven case is the fact that Monsanto hired a private security company, whose work moved beyond security and into surveillance. Indeed, during the two week lead-up to the Duncannon fair and talk, organised by five of the Arthurstown Seven, I believed that we were under surveillance. We didn t bother dwelling on it at the time people tend to label you as paranoid if you do but what emerged in court confirmed at least some of our suspicions.
As part of the evidence against us in court, Henry O Donnell from Probe Security presented the judge with photos of us pulling up the sugar beet. We believe that they were taken by two people who d travelled down on the bus we had organised from Dublin. They were believe it or not! undercover spies.
On the morning of June 21st, as they organised people onto the bus leaving from Dublin s Custom House Quay to the Wexford fair and talk, Davie and Cuimhin, two of the Arthurstown Seven, spotted a man filming them from a car. When they approached him he drove off. However, he must have simply gone across the river, because part of the evidence that Probe gave to the gardam was a video shot with a long-range camera from across the Liffey of everyone getting onto the bus.
The surveillance followed us to Wexford. Probe s video contains material shot through the darkened window of a vehicle parked at Duncannon Fort, where the food fair and public talk was held. It includes close-ups of people s faces as they leave the talk, as well as car registration numbers.
In court, under cross-examination from our solicitor, David Bulbulia, O Donnell referred to the people attending the Duncannon talk as suspects carrying out an operation on which he was gathering intelligence . Bulbulia contested that Probe s purpose was not just to provide security for the test sites, as Monsanto stated, but to gather information about people who were simply exercising their democratic right to organise and attend a public talk.
Last June, many people would ve have thought us mad for thinking that we were under surveillance. Who d bother spying on a bunch of environmentalists organising a food fair and public talk on genetic engineering? Now we know.
When I first heard about GM in food and agriculture two years ago, my instincts rang out in alarm. The notion of splicing together the genes of species that would never naturally interbreed of inserting, for example, pig genes into potatoes sickened me to the core.
Since then, I have researched and written a great deal on the subject of GM in food and agriculture. My understanding of the science has supported my early instinctive fears. I ve also studied the huge transnational biotech corporations which are profiting from genetic modification. It s my conclusion and that of thousands of other of people worldwide, from scientists to food security experts to housewives to politicians that the biotech industry is trying to push untested GM food products and crops, many of which contain viruses and bacteria never found in the human food chain before, on the world s population. Their real motivation is nothing less than monopoly control over global food production.
During 1997 and 1998, as I learned more and more about what the biotech corporations were up to, I became one of a small but growing number of people in Ireland largely alerted by the information group, Genetic Concern who could see clearly what is really at stake. Our environment, our health, the purity and safety of our food, our freedom to choose what we eat even our basic rights to democracy and economic self-determination are all greatly endangered by the transnational biotech corporations.
This knowledge has compelled me to act as well as write. The biotech corporations are food fascists. If they are not stopped, they will remove our control over what we eat. Already, we don t know whether or not what we buy in the supermarket contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the US, media silencing has been so effective that the population is only just beginning to discover that they ve been eating GMOs for more than three years. It s likely by now that nearly all American processed foods contain GMO traces. Millions of American acres are planted with GM crops. And now the Irish EPA has given Monsanto the green light to start planting their GM crops here, despite thousands of written objections and no real public consultation.
As soon as a GM crop is planted the risk exists that through horizontal gene transfer it will immediately start contaminating the surrounding environment. Many GM opponents, including geneticists, believe that this irrevocable genetic pollution is dangerous to the health of humans and other species. The risks include the spread of new viruses and pathogens. That is why myself and six others ended up in court for criminal damage to Monsanto s crop. We were trying to get rid of a dangerous contaminant.
As the Gardam left my flat last autumn, I asked them what the next stage would be. They said that they were filing a case with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who would decide whether or not to bring us to court. Several months later, at the beginning of January 1999, we started receiving summons to court. Myself and John Seymour were the last to get ours, just two weeks before we were due to appear before the judge.
With none of us possessing much in the way of legal knowledge, we felt quite at sea. But fate delivered expert legal help. David Bulbulia, a solicitor with Kenny Stephenson Chapman, rowed to our rescue, putting together a brilliant defence free of charge. My mind, scattered and unsure about our case, was seriously put to rest when we handed our legal dilemma over to this capable young man.
At our first appearance in court in early February, our hearing was adjourned till the end of March. This gave us time to start gathering evidence for our defence.
In those six weeks, all seven of us had to embark on our own inner journeys. I thought it very unlikely that we would be sent to prison, but it still existed as the worst case scenario. It was something I had to contemplate and come to terms with. Monsanto were claiming that we caused #16,000 worth of damage. Having discussed it among ourselves, we agreed that it would be morally wrong to pay them this money (not that we had it anyway!). So we had to consider what the implications of that might be, too.
An amazing thing happens among people when are faced by shared adversity. The close supportive relationship between the Arthurstown Seven and especially our connection with the wise old sage, John Seymour, was an enormous source of strength. No amount of corporate money could buy it.
Before I knew that I was going to court, I d arranged to sub-let a cottage overlooking the stunning panorama of Roaringwater Bay in West Cork. I was very fortunate in being able to spend most of the month before our case in the beautiful countryside. On my long walks through the first blush of spring, surrounded by the smells, sights and sounds of beloved Nature, I meditated and prayed about our case. I had embarked upon a spiritual journey, and I felt strongly supported by inner and outer guides. On this journey I came to a true understanding of what it means to take responsibility for your actions. My belief in a higher moral law which sometimes demands the breaking of other laws grew stronger by the day. And I learned valuable lessons in overcoming anxiety and fear, which will stand to me for the rest of my life.
When the police called to my flat last autumn, giving the first intimations that there was trouble ahead, I experienced several days of profound anxiety. I oscillated wildly between hope and depression. I felt Big Brother breathing down my neck. It made me feel isolated, powerless and afraid. But the fear burnt through me like a fever, and was gradually replaced by a strong sense of inner power. After my time in West Cork, though our case loomed large on the horizon, I was ready and willing to join the fray.
It is Tuesday the 30th of March, 1999. In New Ross District Court, Co. Wexford, seven people are on trial for sabotaging a Monsanto-owned genetically mutilated (GM) sugar beet crop. One of them is me.
For the first time in my life, I am being criminally prosecuted in a court of law. There are two charges against me. One is forced entry. The other criminal damage is much more serious. It carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.
My rumbunctiousness in the rolling Wexford countryside which took place last Summer Solstice, 1998, on one of the Celtic Fire Festivals has led me to the county s district court. From there to here. How strange.
I ve spent the day so far listening to the prosecution s case against us. I ve also heard several experts speak in our defence. Since morning, I ve grown increasingly tense. My call to the dock is drawing nigh. Because I m the first of the New Ross Seven before the judge, I have no idea how the State s cross-examination will go. We are admitting to having caused damage, but we are not actually pleading guilty. Our case is that we had lawful excuse to damage Monsanto s property, because we held the honest belief that the transgenic sugar beet posed an immediate threat to human and environmental health. How will the prosecution try to undermine my defence? What line of questioning will they take? Will I become confused or intimidated? God, I m under pressure, serious pressure. A lot is riding on this, baby both the movement to halt GM foods and my own personal future.
The judge has heard nearly all the witnesses. It s my turn soon. The muscles in my neck and shoulders spasm. How the body maps the mind. My mind is in my heart. My heart is in my mouth. My mouth is dry. My breathing is shallow. There s a roaring in my ears. Any minute now I will be summoned to the stand. It s all slow motion. I am shaking with nerves. I feel hunted.
Right now, in this Wexford court, I am more embraced by the present moment than I have ever been before. I believe that what you fear you empower. So I focus on counteracting my fear with love. I throw love in the direction of the Monsanto people on the other side of the courtroom Dr. Patrick O Reilly, Monsanto Ireland s business manager; Michael Keane, their main PR strategist; and the smart-looking Monsanto barrister. Even Henry O Donnell from Probe Security, the private security company hired by Monsanto to gather intelligence on us, gets a dose of my heart s energy in those moments before I am called to the dock.
I hear my name. I say a prayer to what Dylan Thomas called the Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower . Others have called it Divine Energy, Great Spirit, Earth Mother; prana, chi, God, the Goddess. Many names for the same thing.
I have taken a stand. Now I take the stand.