This coming Saturday [July 17] Pat ‘the Chief’ O’Donnell will finally be released from Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon. The Shell to Sea campaigner and human rights activist was jailed on February 11 after being singled out by Gardaí and convicted of ‘public order offences’ following a cavalcade in support of Maura Harrington who was on hunger strike at the time.
Pat’s determined resistance, despite everything that the state has thrown at him and his family, is an inspiration to all those opposed to Shell’s planned pipeline in north Mayo and the giveaway of our natural resources. Like fellow campaigners Maura Harrington, who was recently jailed for the fifth time in connection with the protests against Shell, and Niall Harnett, who remains in Castlerea prison serving a six-month sentence, Pat has endured intimidation, arrest and assault by the Gardaí and Shell’s notorious security firm I-RMS [Irish Risk Management Services].
His right and ability to earn a living have been seriously affected by his principled stance and by this blatant intimidation by the state and Shells goons. He has been arrested as he went about his lawful business fishing in Broadhaven Bay. He has had his boat seized and impounded by Gardaí in order to assist Shell by preventing him from fishing in the area.
He has also had his boat hi-jacked and sank by armed and masked thugs. No attempt was made by Gardaí to investigate that attack from which Pat and his crew were lucky to escape with their lives. Indeed the Garda Press Office were busy from the start trying to spin the line that no attack ever took place and that for some inexplicable reason, he decided to sink his own boat, even though it would result in Pat being unable to fish and earn his living.
Despite all of this Pat refused to surrender or be bought off and he remained a staunch and key opponent of Shell within his community. It is because of his determined activism that he was singled out for such treatment, charged and ultimately jailed despite the complete absence of any credible evidence against him.
The treatment of Pat, and indeed the entire community in north Mayo, at the hands of the state is a damning indictment of what passes for justice in the Twenty-Six County state. This is particularly so in north Mayo where Shell law, not the law of the state, rules supreme, policed and enforced on their behalf by the Gardaí and the judiciary.
The reality is that the interests of the state are a completely different thing from and diametrically opposed to the interests of the citizens of the state. This has never been exposed so clearly as by the reaction of all arms of the state in defence of Shell and against the community in north Mayo.
One only needs to look at the imprisonment of Pat, Niall, Maura and the Rossport Five before them for standing up for the rights of their community and contrast that with the lack of justice delivered to those within the political and business elite who bled this country dry on the backs of working people.
And while Pat will have served his full sentence and Niall will almost surely do likewise, apparently that is not the case for most. A recent article in the Mayo News [July 13] cited Castlebar based Garda Superintendent Willie Keaveney who said that criminals that are jailed quite often only spend an hour at reception in Castlerea prison before being released.
Other instances included a person serving just three weeks of a four month sentence and another person who served five days of a four month sentence and two weeks of a seven month sentence.
And while the Irish Prison Service say that overcrowding is the problem, when it comes to finding space to hold Shell to Sea activists engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests, it appears that space does not become a problem.
The Gardaí and the judiciary have shown that they are not there to protect and uphold the rights of the citizens of this state. They are there to protect the status quo, the interests of the wealthy political and business elite. Their role is to ensure that any challenge to the status quo, even through peaceful protest is subdued and defeated by any means necessary, even if it means breaking their own laws and covering up the crimes of others such as Shell in the process.
To celebrate Pat’s release and to demand the release of Niall Harnett, who will remain incarcerated while Pat walks free, a demonstration is being held at Castlerea prison this Saturday [July 17] at 2pm.
Urging people to attend, éirígí Sligeach activist Gerry Casey said that it is important that people show solidarity and support for the O’Donnell family after all they have gone through in recent months.
Casey said: “Pat and his family have been treated horrendously by the state on Shell’s behalf. Saturday’s demonstration is a chance for all of us to show the O’Donnell family and the entire community on the Erris peninsula that we remain committed to their struggle, to defeating Shell and reclaiming our natural resources.”
He added: “While Pat walks free on Saturday, we must also remember that another victim of Shell’s regime in north Mayo, fellow campaigner Niall Harnett, will remain in Castlerea prison. Like Pat, he was unjustly imprisoned and should be immediately released.
“History will vindicate Pat and Niall and all those who stood up to Shell law in Mayo. The people that should be behind bars are not these Shell to Sea activists. It should be those who shamefully handed over the rights to our valuable natural resources to Shell and have intimidated, assaulted and demonised those opposed to having an unsafe experimental pipeline carrying raw gas forced through the heart of their community.”
He concluded: “The economic future of this island and the safety of families living near the route of this planned pipeline must not be sacrificed in order to make obscene profits for Shell. These are our natural resources. They need to be nationalised and utilised safely for the benefit of all, not for Shell and other oil companies.”
Shell to Sea spokesperson Maura Harrington described Pat O’Donnell’s jailing as “part of an ongoing pattern in Erris”. According to Maura, “members of the community who prominently oppose the project, particularly those who make formal complaints about Garda behaviour, have repeatedly been arrested or summonsed on farcical charges such as loitering or traffic offences which collapse when they come to court, only to be followed up by new charges.”
She added: “Pat O’Donnell was selected for vexatious arrests, beatings and jailing because he is an example of a person who could not be bullied or bought. The people of Ireland need to ask themselves what the State is afraid of here.”
Welcome Pat home by joining the demonstration at 2pm on Saturday, July 17, at Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon. Bígí linn.
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