Shell Oil was last week forced to pay a $15 million settlement to the Ogoni people for their complicity in committing human rights abuses in the Niger Delta.
The landmark case, taken by the families of the Ogoni Nine, indicted Shell for human rights abuses committed in the 1990s.
The Ogoni community’s success in demonstrating Shell’s complicity in torture, murder and collusion with the Nigerian military junta should provide a wake up call to those in Ireland who have chosen to ignore the company’s destructive and increasingly sinister activities in Mayo.
In the mid-90s, the destruction and degradation of Ogoni land by Shell led to widespread community resistance, hampering its ability to operate in the area. As a result, well-known writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists were harassed, tortured and, ultimately, executed by the state for daring to resist Shell’s writ in the Niger Delta.
Following mass demonstrations in the wake of the executions, Shell were forced to suspend their operations in Ogoniland and have been unable to resume them for almost a decade. While the oil company persistently denied colluding with the Nigerian military in the suppression of the Ogoni people, documents that were due to be presented to the New York court, and revealed by Channel 4 News in Britain, provide damning evidence to the contrary.
In advance of a demonstration opposing Shell’s operation, a letter from the corporation to the local police commissioner in Ogoni, requested that “protection preferably the Mobile Police Force be urgently provided”.
The Mobile Police Force was a notoriously brutal outfit, responsible for beating and killing protestors.
Other documents reveal that Shell provided helicopters to transport the Nigerian military to protect its installations and outline a series of meetings that took place between Philip Watt, former Shell CEO, with the president of Nigeria, military chiefs and the head of Nigerian state security. At these meetings, it was agreed that the military dictatorship would provide Shell with police re-enforcements and armed troops if necessary.
Testimony from local fishermen outline the tactics employed by Shell: once identified as Ogoni, the fishermen were beaten by Shell security.
Anxious to prevent this damning evidence being presented in court, Shell agreed to an out of court settlement. The $15 million payment confirms Shell’s guilt and has exposed the company internationally as complicit in torture and murder and collusion with an odious military dictatorship.
While Shell’s culpability in human rights abuses in the Niger Delta has been confirmed, the small rural community of Erris in North Mayo, because of their refusal to bend the knee to corporate might, continues to suffer.
Last week, local fisherman Pat O’Donnell became the latest victim of Shell’s mercenaries. An active opponent of the company’s destruction of the Erris peninsula, O’Donnell and crew man Martin McDonnell were attacked by armed and masked members of IRMS, the private security firm hired by Shell.
Having boarded the trawler and held Pat and Martin at gunpoint, two of the mercenaries proceeded to sink the vessel. Both men had to scramble on to an inflatable dinghy and were lucky to escape with their lives. Last week’s incident followed a serious physical assault on Willie Corduff, who was beaten by members of the same firm while protesting outside the Shell refinery.
Speaking after his ordeal, Pat O’Donnell said: “I was in fear for my life. Is there no end to what these thugs will try to do? All I am trying to do is protect my family and the seas that are our livelihood. I told Minister Ó Cuív in April that I needed protection by the State, but he wouldn't give it - now it's time for the Government to protect its people. I won't be intimidated by this.”
These are worrying times for a community that has been persistently demonised by the right-wing media and whose concerns have been consistently ignored by establishment politicians. The latest attack comes at a time when Shell is intensifying efforts to get the Corrib gas pipeline onshore.
A recent TV3 documentary, a collaboration between Garda spokesperson Paul Williams and former RTÉ producer and one time Workers’ Party guru Gerry Gregg, was yet another example of pro-Shell propaganda: seeking to demonise the campaign while failing to address any of the substantive issues. Not surprisingly, the programme sought to paint republicans as the bogeymen of the equation.
Gregg and his close colleague and business partner Eoghan Harris were central to the oppressive regime that pervaded RTÉ in the 1970s and ’80s. Censorship of republicans by the state broadcaster was vigorously enforced, while those suspected of republican sympathies were actively targeted. Journalists such as Jenny McKeever were sacked for straying beyond what Harris and co. deemed appropriate. McKeever’s failure to impose self-censorship during her coverage of the return of the bodies of the three IRA volunteers killed in Gibraltar in 1988 led to her dismissal.
In the 1970s, the Workers’ Party also controlled the Resources Protection Campaign, led by another former senior RTÉ figure, Una Claffey (who was later appointed as senior adviser to Bertie Ahern), which was a broad-based campaign aimed at utilising oil and gas reserves in the interests of the Irish people.
The Sticks ran the campaign into the ground and instead directed their energies to supporting the entry of US multinational corporations into Ireland. The fact that Gregg would act in the interests of Shell and paint the Shell to Sea campaign as a republican conspiracy is therefore unsurprising. Williams’ input simply added the sensationalist ‘spice’ and, of course, the intellectual paucity.
The $15 million Shell was forced to pay to the Ogoni people is a pittance given the lives lost and the devastation caused and will make little dent in the company’s profits, which reached $31 billion last year.
While a hugely significant case to win, it is clear that Shell has no intention of ceasing its corrupt practices; the profits to be accrued are too great and that, for Shell, is the bottom line.
They will continue to force their will on the people of North Mayo, the isolated community is now at the mercy of the notorious company and their hired guns in IRMS.
In the absence of state protection, the community needs the assistance of the people.
éirígí is calling on individuals and groups concerned about what is happening in Mayo to mobilise now to stop Shell.
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