19 September 2008

Maura Harrington ends her Hunger Strike

Maura Harrington (right), Principal of Inver Primary School near Broadhaven Bay in Co. Mayo, has ended a ten-day-long hunger strike in strong protest against Shell's attempt to lay the Corrib gas pipeline.

After receiving the written confirmation - as she had demanded - that the Solitaire, the world's largest commercial pipe-laying ship, has left Irish territorial waters, the meanwhile 55-year-old teacher and 'Shell to Sea' campaigner (who did not interrupt her hunger strike for her birthday) is satisfied that there is - for the time being - no active attempt to construct the pipeline from the mainland to the offshore gas field.

So at 3 pm this afternoon she ended her hunger strike, which began more than ten days ago when the Solitaire arrived in Broadhaven Bay, ready to start work on the pipeline. (for more details see my entry from September 14th)

Shell, who are developing the Corrib gas field off the coast of Co. Mayo, has subcontracted the Swiss-based international engineering and maritime service company All Seas, who operates the Solitaire (left), to build the pipeline from the coast to the offshore production platform.

But from the moment the huge ship arrived in Broadhaven Bay, the 'Shell to Sea' campaign, who has been fighting peacefully, but with growing anger, against the project for meanwhile eight years, started a new demonstration, demanding the withdrawal of the Solitaire from Irish waters.

Maura Harrington's hunger strike was the key element of this latest protest, and the strongest statement of discontent so far used by the 'Shell to Sea' campaign.

I hope that Maura is well and has not incurred any medical complications from her admirable action. She was certainly in good spirit this afternoon, when she ended her hunger strike and made the following statement:

I thank Divine Grace and the support of decent people everywhere that the Solitaire has left Irish territorial waters.
The courage of 'the Chief', Pat O'Donnell and his son Jonathan, who fought to uphold their rights at sea, and the tenacity of local people, together with national and international support, in their quest for justice is a testament to what is best in all of us.

Local people have borne the brunt of Shell's arrogance and government neglect for the past eight years. Yet Corrib remains a national issue because the government continues to put the profits of Shell before the needs of the Irish people.
Any alternative location for the Corrib gas infrastructure will not build new schools, new hospitals or contribute to the National Pension Fund.
Until we, the People, benefit from what is rightfully ours, any attempt to extricate Shell and the government from the mess that is Corrib remains doomed to failure.

I believe that the Shell to Sea campaign gives hope to all who strive for an Ireland that cherishes all its people equally and upholds values that don't carry a price tag.
Yesterday afternoon Shell announced that the Solitaire, which had been moored in the port of Killybegs in Co. Donegal for the whole ten days of Maura Harrington's hunger strike, will "sail to a deep water port in the UK to undergo repairs".
Which port the ship is heading for was not said, presumably to avoid further protests and demonstrations there. (Meanwhile the 'Shell to Sea' campaign has a lot of support outside of Ireland as well, and among the most prominent Bristish supporters is the film director Ken Loach, best known here for his recent film The Wind that shakes the Barley.)

The ship had left Broadhaven Bay again shortly after Maura Harrington began her hunger strike - after apparently suffering some damage to its laying equipment - and sailed to Killybegs.

So the huge detachment of Gardai - on land and in numerous boats at sea - which was deployed for the protection of the ship and its operation, was another waste of taxpayers' money, just as the two patrol vessels (a quarter of the whole Irish Naval Service) sent there by the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea to intimidate the residents of Co. Mayo.

Some of the local people also reported apparent sightings of a British (nuclear) submarine in the area, but there is no positive confirmation for it. Sending a nuclear submarine into the territorial waters of a friendly neutral country is not done usually or easily. Decisions on the highest level - political as well as naval - would have to be involved.

It is nevertheless possible, as Britain is rather good at breaking rules, though as a former naval officer I have some doubts about this particular point. Nowadays the Royal Navy has only nine fleet submarine (in addition to her four strategic SSBNs, which carry intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads) and they are usually stretched as it is to fulfill all required military operations. But then again, many things are possible, if a government gives the orders for it.

I am relieved tonight that Maura Harrington has survived her hunger strike and hope she will be able to sleep well in her bed, after spending ten days locked inside her car, parked at the gate of the Shell compound at Glengad.

I salute her for her courage and determination, and I wish her and her fellow campaigners well.

Even though the whole process is going on for eight years and fairly advanced by now, it is not too late to make changes and do the right thing, for Co. Mayo and the whole of Ireland.
That, however, is in the hands of our government, which has so far staunchly sided with Shell and sent hundreds of Gardai (policemen) and even warships against the local population.
Such actions one would expect from some tin-pot dictator in South America or Africa, but not from an Irish government that claims to be lawful and democratic.

I will have to write more about this in due course, but for now I close this piece with a sigh of relieve and thanks to everyone who supported Maura Harrington, in one way or another. (I noticed that at least one TD whom I asked for help did give his support and urged Shell to withdraw the Solitaire.)

May the Sun rise in the morning and shine warmly on the Emerald Isle, with a special smile on Co. Mayo and in particular on Maura Harrington!

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

The Wild Goose said...

That's really good news. I do admire all those who actively fight for the common well being risking personal disadventage or even their own lives. In history such people are called heroes. May all who strive for an Ireland that cherishes all its people equally and upholds values that don't carry a price tag achieve their purposes. And may Divine Grace keep giving the world heroes like Maura.

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