Maura Harrington ended her hunger strike today (Friday, September 19) as it was confirmed that the pipe-laying ship Solitaire had arrived in Glasgow docks. The removal of the ship from Irish territorial waters had been Maura’s sole demand for ending her fast which she began eleven days ago.
While the withdrawal of the Solitaire from Irish waters represents a significant victory for the campaign against Shell’s exploitation of the Corrib gas field, construction of other elements of the project, such as the refinery at Ballinaboy continue unabated. Maura has, through her courageous actions, delayed the start date for Shell’s opening of the Corrib gas field – but for how long? This is the question facing the people of Ireland today.
In recent weeks the issue of fuel poverty has regularly been in the headlines. It has been estimated that somewhere in the region of 3,000 people already die each winter in Ireland as a result of preventable, cold related illness. This figure is expected to rise significantly as a result of the recent hike in oil, electricity and gas prices. The most recent figures also suggest that up to 429,000 Irish households already experience consistent or occasional fuel poverty and that is before the full effects of the latest price hikes are felt in the coming winter.
Politicians from all parties have been quick to issue sound-bites on fuel poverty, but very few have even mentioned the giveaway of the Corrib gas as part of the problem. Even fewer have dared to suggest that the nationalisation of Corrib as part of the solution. Instead the establishment parties, on both sides of the border, have focused their comment on extra social welfare allowances, increased insulation and educating people on how to reduce their energy consumption. Why so?
Is it because it would be heretic to suggest that the great god of capitalism and private corporations may, in fact, be part of the problem and not the solution? Might it upset the current consensus to suggest that the people of Ireland have an inalienable right to benefit from their own natural resources? Might it upset Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Google and all of the other global corporations with Irish operations if the Dublin government were to interfere in the so called ‘free market’?
A ‘free market’ which will allow Shell to sell the Corrib gas to the highest bidder, wherever that may be. A ‘free market’ which ensures that thousands of Irish pensioners will die of the cold for fear of the bills they will incur if they turn on their heating.
Or perhaps the political establishment are afraid of the floodgates that might open if the Corrib gas field were to be taken back into public control. If Corrib were to be nationalised what else might follow? Ireland’s other natural resources perhaps? What about lead, gold, zinc, fisheries and water? And even more worryingly, for the establishment, what about other resources such as housing, hospitals, schools, roads and industry itself? Are these the reasons why we hear so little about the robbery of Ireland’s oil and gas reserves.
The simple fact is that the political establishment in Ireland is too afraid of big corporations, such as Shell – afraid of loosing the personal comforts that accrue to an obedient political class in the capitalist system. Too spineless to stand up for the rights of their own people, they choose instead to shed crocodile tears about ‘global factors beyond their control’.
But those same politicians are playing a dangerous game. The people of Ireland are not stupid. They know that Mayo is not in Iraq, Russia or Iran. They know that the Corrib gas is not ‘beyond their control’.
And they know courage when they see it, and they saw it this past eleven days in the determination of Maura Harrington and others in Erris who have not, and will not, bend to the combined might of Shell and the Dublin government.
Shell too, would do well to consider their next move in Ireland very carefully. Over the last eleven days an awakening and mobilisation of ordinary people across Ireland has begun. Any return to Ireland of the Solitaire, or any other similar ship, will be met by a growing body of people who are willing to actively oppose the robbery of the Corrib Gas.
With Maura’s decision to end her protest the next round of the battle for Corrib has begun. The challenge now, for those who care about the issue of Ireland’s natural resources, is to build a campaign that will finally force Shell out of Ireland and take the Corrib gas field into public control.
Should Shell again attempt to lay the Corrib pipeline, at sea or on land, it should not fall to a single individual to take a stand as Maura Harrington has done over the last number of days. Instead, a collective of hundreds, if not thousands, of people will need to mobilise in physical opposition to Shell’s operations in Mayo.
In the building of such a movement the role of the establishment media will need to be clearly understood. Over the past week that same media have obediently regurgitated the combined spin of Shell and the Twenty-Six County establishment – most notably in relation to the alleged planting of a ‘viable explosive device’ outside of Shell HQ in Dublin.
Not one journalist thought to ask the Latin question ‘Qui Bono?’ – To whose benefit? Should this not be the first logical question to ask when attempting to establish who actually planted any ‘viable’ device?
At a time when Maura Harrington’s hunger strike was passing the significant one week barrier and Shell to Sea Dublin were organising peaceful nightly vigils outside the same building, who benefited from the alleged planting of a ‘viable’ device?
Shell’s spin doctors were very quick to exploit such an unexpected distraction from Maura’s protest and the growing wave of public support that she was attracting.
And over the coming days and weeks the for-profit-media will without doubt, increase its campaign of vilification of the Shell to Sea campaign. Stories of ‘external agitators’, ‘infiltration’ and ‘internal splits’ will again fill the column inches as those media outlets who support Shell attempt to blacken a genuine, grassroots campaign which is successfully exposing the true nature of the great gas robbery.
In addition it can be expected that the Gardaí and other arms of the Twenty-Six county state will be brought to bear on those who dare to challenge the giveaway of the Corrib gas field.
But to be forewarned is to be forearmed – neither black propaganda nor state intimidation will prevent éirígí activists or those activists from other organisations and none, coming together to mount effective opposition to Shell and their allies in the Dublin government.
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