Over 50 activists gathered at the Rossport Solidarity Camp yesterday [Friday, 29 July] to participate in a national day of action in Erris, County Mayo, which was called following Shell’s commencement of work on the onshore section of the Corrib gas pipeline. This work will see attempts by Shell to link up the offshore section of the pipeline to the massive gas refinery at Bellanaboy and involves the boring of a 4.9km long tunnel under Sruth Fada Conn estuary, a Special Conservation Area, through which the pipe will run before hitting land at Aughoose and running several kilometres to the refinery.
It is estimated that completion of the construction work on the onshore section of the pipeline would take over two years and involve unprecedented levels of disruption to the lives of Erris residents. An average of 250 daily truck journeys are due to take place along narrow roads to and from construction sites at Aughoose and Glengad and the Bord na Móna site at Srath Mór, the refinery at Bellanaboy and local quarries. At Glengad, Shell intends pursuing Compulsory Acquisition Orders on private land in order to build the Landfall Valve Installation, which the company claims will control pressure in the pipeline as the raw unrefined gas hits land at 345 bar pressure.
This work represents the final section of the company’s highly dangerous experimental project which has faced considerable delays due to the determined resistance mounted by the local community and the Shell to Sea campaign. The Corrib gas in the Corrib field was originally discovered in 1996, and declared ‘economically viable’ in 1999. In 2003 Shell bought a 45 per cent controlling share in the consortium that controls the field and planned to have gas pumping from Corrib soon after. According to its latest estimates it does not expect Corrib to be fully operational until 2014. However, if the campaign actions over the past week continue, Shell which earlier this week announced profits of US$18.6 billion [€12.9 billion; £11.3 billion] for 2010, will be forced to once again revise its timetable.
Early on Friday morning, as the sun came up on the breathtaking landscape around Erris, activists from across Ireland and beyond gathered at the Rossport Solidarity Camp to discuss plans for the day of action. Those who had just arrived at the Camp heard reports of an extremely active week of protest actions during which Shell has been prevented from carrying out work both on the compound at Aughoose and the peat haulage site at Srath Mór.
At 9am several dozen activists made the short walk from the Camp site to the compound occupied by Shell at Aughoose. Upon reaching the road they were joined by members of the local community but were met by a force of up to 100 private security mercenaries employed by IRMS, a company owned by former Free State army ranger Jim Farrell. The IRMS goons were operating alongside a relatively small force of gardaí. Despite the adverse odds, the activists made a rush for the compound and succeeded in removing four of the security fences before many were beaten back by the goon squad. During the action Gardaí attempted to arrest one activist, with a number of gardaí choking him in a headlock, however he was successfully released from their clutches by the determined action of colleagues. At this point garda reinforcements arrived, including members of the Special Branch.
Despite the actions of Gardaí and IRMS, up to 30 activists managed to breach the security fences and entered the compound. It was here that one activist, éirígí member Joe Keegan, was viciously assaulted by three IRMS security guards, resulting in a nasty gash to his head which subsequently required three stitches. After a number of hours on the compound, the Shell to Sea activists regrouped and returned to the Camp to plan actions for the afternoon.
Activists returned to the Shell occupied compound just after lunchtime and made another rush for the fences. With a larger force of gardaí present and the IRMS mercenaries embarrassed by their earlier failure to prevent fencing being removed there was an even more violent response. During the afternoon action, three activists received injuries that required medical attention. One woman was violently thrown from the fence onto the road and suffered a concussion, she was taken to Belmullet hospital before being transferred to Castlebar for scans. Another man was punched in the face and suffered a severe eye injury, while éirígí activist Gary Ronaghan was attacked on top of the fence and subsequently received five stitches to a cut on his upper lip and suffered damage to his teeth.
The thuggish behaviour of the goons employed by Shell is nothing new – locals in Erris have endured this harassment for many years. In recent years both Pat O’Donnell and Willie Corduff have been seriously assaulted by IRMS mercenaries. Yesterday, however it was noticeable that the Gardaí allowed the lead policing role to IRMS. On a number of occasions Gardaí were observed following the instructions of IRMS personnel, including Jim Farrell, who it seemed was running the joint security operation. Farrell directed his mercenaries to train their cameras on particular activists and was seen to direct Gardaí at the gates of the Shell occupied compound and along the public road. Locals reported that IRMS has been policing the public road at Aughoose over the past week. Once again the local community is being forced to live under siege-like conditions; access along public roads is blocked by Shell’s private army and locals are subjected to constant surveillance as they go about their daily business.
The struggle in Erris is far from over. While Shell continues to have the full backing of the state and its forces and is supported in its theft of Irish natural resources by the political establishment and corporate media, its project in Corrib remains stalled. The reason the project is still not operational is because the local community and the Shell to Sea campaign has refused to capitulate to the demands of corporate power. The appointment of a Labour minister has made absolutely no difference to the struggle to reclaim our natural resources. Pat Rabbitte like his predecessors in the Department of Energy and Natural Resources is in thrall to the oil corporations and refuses to act in the interests of the people. His recent performance on RTÉ’s Primetime programme, during which he defended the oil and gas giveaway and blamed campaigners for costing the state money, demonstrates the utter political bankruptcy of the Labour Party.
While working people in the Twenty-Six Counties continue to be burdened with the gambling debts of the rich through the imposition of increased taxes on workers along with wage, social welfare and public spending cuts, approximately €700 billion [£615 billion] worth of oil and gas is controlled by global oil corporations who enjoy the most generous fiscal terms anywhere in the world. To date the decade long struggle in Erris has prevented Shell from expropriating €10 billion [£8.8 billion] worth of gas from the Corrib field. What is lost in Corrib is lost to the people of Ireland. It’s time to stand up and be counted. Get to Mayo and join the struggle to stop the giveaway of our natural resources.
For further information on the campaign and how you can help see www.shelltosea.com
For an outline of the giveaway of Irish natural resources and the campaign to reclaim them check the éirígí campaign page We Only Want the Earth!
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