24 July 2008

The Blue & Limes strike again

The war between the international oil and gas company Shell and the people of northern Mayo continues steadily, even though most of Ireland's media seem to have lost interest.

At about 8 o'clock this morning more than 40 Gardaí (Irish policemen), who are now stationed inside the Shell compound in northern Mayo, and 70 uniformed thugs of Shell's specialist 'security' unit forced members of the local community from a section of Glengad Beach, so that Shell could erect 10 feet high fencing about 40 feet down onto the beach.

Using the Public Order Act, Garda Superintendent John Gilligan ordered the about 30 assembled people to leave the area. Then Gardaí forcibly removed some of the protesters.

Members of the local community had been gathering on the beach from before 4 a.m., because they feared that Shell would begin work early, as they had done the previous morning, when they tore down the cliff-face to create a causeway down to the beach.

Yesterday there was only Shell 'security' personnel present, which prevented the locals from walking on sections of their public beach. But today the tormented residents experienced a joint Shell & Garda operation. It was very evident who was in charge, as Shell managers told Gardaí where to stand and what to do. And the senior Gardaí were liaising closely with the leaders of the Shell 'security' force.

It all started with one of the most surreal spectacles ever seen in County Mayo: Over a hundred Shell 'security' men and Gardaí - all clad in dark blue and wearing lime-yellow high visibility vests - marched down the causeway in mixed order and streamed out of a narrow gate in the fencing.
Then they formed a cordon around the area where they were planning to put up the fencing. That done, the Gardaí came forward and forcibly removed the people who were caught inside the 'security' ring.

There was little the group of around 30 protesters could do but stand and watch as the fencing was erected down to the water’s edge. It is presumed that Shell will seek to extend the fencing further. But however far it extends, it already cuts the beach in two, which of course means that beach goers do no longer have their right of way through the public beach.

Shell to Sea campaigner Terence Conway said: "The Gardaí have always spoken about keeping the roads open for the public and Shell alike. However, today they are willing to close off a public beach, so that Shell can fence it off".

The legality of the consents given is still an issue of major concern to the people of County Mayo, as it is still unclear what permissions Shell have received and for what exact work.

While Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan (Green Party, right) has claimed that it was "just an oversight" that the latest authorisations for the project were not published (as they should have been), this clouding of what consents have been granted has been a characteristic of the whole Corrib Gas Project right from the start.

Twelve residents, who had staged a peaceful protest to question the authorisations, were arrested by Gardaí on Tuesday, but later released without charge.

P. J. Moran, one of the twelve, said he would "never have participated in the protest" if he had known about the authorisations.

Dr. Mark Garavan, former spokesman for the Rossport Five, was also critical of the dearth of information.
"All information should be made clear, and the fact that this work on Glengad relates to consents originally approved before the 2003 Pollathomas landslide also needs to be questioned," he said.

Andy Wilson of the Mayo branch of the Green Party said the work at Glengad in advance of approval for the pipeline made "a complete mockery" of the planning process.
Speaking in a personal capacity, he called on Minister Ryan to support the recommendations of the recent Green Party national council motion, which called for the establishment of an independent review body to examine alternative refinery sites in northern Mayo.

Pobal Chill Chomáin, a local community group, has called on the two Green Party Ministers (John Gormley and Eamon Ryan) to "cease all civil engineering works by Shell E&P Ireland in the Pollathomas and Glengad area until a rigorous geological survey and examination is conducted".

On its website the Green Party claims that it stands for "open government" and "more decision-making at community level". But the reality is quite different and the Green Ministers' contribution is abysmal. They are accomplices to the attempts of hiding information from the affected community, and they are not listening and respecting the local opposition to the project. It seems that the Departments of Environment and Energy - both headed by a Minister from the Green Party - only give out information to journalists and ignore any other requests for information, especially if they come from the local residents of the effected area.

Shell is now attempting to construct the first 200 metres of the onshore section of the gas pipeline, without going through planning permission at all. Although the remaining 9.2 km of the onshore pipeline is presently before An Bord Pleanala (Ireland's national planning authority), this first 200 metres are due to be laid already, before a decision on the rest of the onshore section has been made.

"The fact is that this first onshore section is the most dangerous part of the whole project," says Terence Conway. "The pressure could be as high as 345 bar, and still it will not have gone through any planning process if it is constructed."

Further destruction of the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has continued unabated, even under the eyes of the National Parks & Wildlife ranger, who monitored the local sand martin colony from inside the Shell compound yesterday. (Sand martins are a protected bird species, nesting in the area.)

It is also significant that RTE news bulletins and reports of the ongoing conflict between Shell and the residents of northern Mayo are distorted and fail to mention the regular intimidation of the local people by Shell 'security' personnel and Gardaí.
However, some RTE programmes, such as "Today with Pat Kenny" (currently presented by Miles Dungan) did highlight aspects of the intimidation. The repeated filming of local people - including children - who were walking on the beach or swimming in the sea by Shell 'security' personnel was discussed and publicly condemned on the programme only a few days ago.

A Shell spokesman, trying to downplay these clearly illegal incidents, was neither convincing nor believable and one has to ask what kind of people are willing to distort the truth in public as long as they are paid well enough by Shell...

County Mayo was the scene of the first boycott (against the cruel land agent Capt. Boycott), and ever since the word is used in the way we know it now. Perhaps it is time for the people of Mayo to think of this option again. After all, the employees of Shell and the hired 'security' thugs have to live, eat and shop somewhere and are surely known by now to the local community...

There is another reminiscence from the past that comes to my mind when I look at the pictures of this morning's spectacle and listen to the reports of the Mayo people.
Ninety years ago large groups of hired thugs were brought into Ireland by Winston Churchill, in order to intimidate, harass and torment the native population. Wearing mixed outfits, cobbled together from brown items of the British Army field garb and the dark uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary, their strange appearance gave them the name "Black & Tans".

Today's hired thugs, sent into Mayo to intimidate the local people, wear lime-yellow vests over dark blue outfits, which looks even more ridiculous than the uniform of the "Black & Tans". They might not (yet) be as ruthless and brutal as the feared British thugs were ninety years ago, but for me they have clearly inherited their dishonest mantle and tradition. Officially they are called 'security guards', but as they neither provide or enhance security, nor have the status of guards, I think we should call them the "Blue & Limes" and treat them with the same disgust that our ancestors had for the "Black & Tans".

The Emerald Islander

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