"In a State that has completely lost its moral core it’s almost inevitable that those who tenaciously pursue their principles and speaks out against the hypocrisy of power will find themselves silenced."
An Taisce settles with State and leaves community to defend Sruwaddacon
On Tuesday 15th November, An Taisce board member Attracta Uí Bhroin travelled to Belmullet Civic Centre to defend the withdrawal of An Taisce’s legal challenges to the validity of consents for the Corrib Gas project. An Taisce have claimed that their settlement is a 'victory for the environment' despite the fact that the State remains in breach of European environmental directives in proceeding with the Corrib project. The next day campaigners stopped Shell’s peat haulage outside Bellanaboy refinery site to demonstrate that despite An Taisce settling with the State, local campaigners will continue to defend the safety of the community.
On Tuesday night over sixty members of the local community listened to Uí Bhroin attempt to defend An Taisce’s settlement the Corrib judicial review cases with the State. Uí Bhroin argued that An Taisce had always been clear that it was taking the case to improve government accountability for other communities in the future, rather than to save Corrib. This was challenged by local residents who had attended An Taisce’s previous meeting in Belmullet in which An Taisce had sought to explain their position and raise money from the people in the affected area to cover An Taisce’s legal expenses.
Local campaigners speaking at the meeting unanimously condemned An Taisce’s settlement and also the environmental organisation’s misleading communications with the community prior to the court case. When Uí Bhroin contended that An Taisce had made it clear to the community that the case would not help to make Corrib safe, one Pobal le Chéile member responded that ‘I don't accept that that was presented clearly to us, when the initial presentation for fundraising was made, prior to the judicial review being sought. I was present at the time and I decided to contribute as a result of the presentation. I can tell you, the impression that was given to me is at variance with what you are presenting now as the goals of An Taisce.’
Interestingly Uí Bhroin was not at liberty to disclose the exact content or document which is the settlement between An Taisce and the State. Uí Bhroin claimed that the settlement consists of four main points; An Taisce’s withdrawal of the legal challenges, the establishment of an environmental law implementation group, a sum of money to contribute to An Taisce’s legal costs, and a statement which was read in court. Local residents questioned the settlement, asking ‘is the settlement to which Charles Stanley Smith referred and on which basis as these cases were dropped, is there a written document which can be called a settlement and which we could see?’. After a very long pause Uí Bhroin conceded that ‘There is a document, but I’m not sure that you can see it.’
Local campaigners also questioned Uí Bhroin about the lack of guarantees in the settlement and the nature of the ‘implementation group’ and established that there are as yet no terms of reference or confirmed membership list of this group.
The community members strongly queried why An Taisce had come down to Mayo in the first place to ask people to donate money to this case if they had always known that it would not help the community’s efforts to ensure the Corrib project is done safely. Uí Bhroin mentioned that the settlement included payment of An Taisce’s legal expenses by the State. She explained that if An Taisce now emerged from the case with a net surplus, that local people who had donated money for legal expenses would be entitled to a refund. Uí Bhroin was unclear about when and how this would happen but suggested that local residents requiring this refund should contact An Taisce.
Towards the close of the three hour meeting many Erris residents explained in strong terms what this settlement, alongside the corruption and incompetence of the organs of the State now mean for them and for the community. As one resident asked Uí Bhroin to stop defending An Taisce and condemned their failure act much earlier on the destruction being caused by Corrib,
“An Taisce should disband immediately. And let them not ever come pass Foxford or wherever they like to come. Don't let them come into this area. Because we put our faith in them. Their time to come was in Glengad when they started killing sand martins, destroying the sand dunes. Where were they then? And we were begging for them to come down. The National Parks and Wildlife came down, Denis Strong came down, and there's witnesses here, and told us, ‘it's completely wrong’ he says, ‘but our hands our tied’. Well, would someone loosen someone's hands before it's too late. Because this is what's leaving us in this room tonight: corruption and filth and dirt that's going on for the twenty years. Until someone says stop, before it's too late.”
“Ye all know Shell are capable of doing and ye all know Shell's record. Do you think we'd be out stopping them or trying to stop them but for we have their record and all their explosions and everything else? And it going right beside us. They condemned Sruwaddacon Bay eight years ago and now they are going in to destroy it and do what they like with it. And your agreement to us is no good whatsoever. We want the thing done right. We don't want it stopped. We want it stopped where they are doing it definitely, and we'll stop it with the help of God. …”
“We'll have to fight for another day, the whole community. Ye might settle for money with them, but we are not going to.”
The next morning, peat extraction trucks were spotted for the first time travelling from the Aughoose compound to the Srahmore peat deposition site in Bangor Erris. Shell’s use of these very large trucks signals the start of their attempts to remove peat from Aughoose and haul stone in order to begin the process of tunneling through Sruwaddacon estuary.
Shell plan up to 475 truck movements a day through the affected route and villages in this period of construction. Members of the local community and Rossport Solidarity Camp responded by gathering at 12.30pm outside the Bellanaboy refinery to show their continuing opposition to the project. A peat truck was stopped at 12.45pm, as three campaigners climbed inside. A fourth campaigner locked on underneath the lorry at 2.30pm. With campaigners occupying the peat truck, local residents recorded that ten further trucks were prevented from either leaving the Aughoose compound and or leaving the refinery. The peat lorry blocked all Shell trucks to and from the Aughoose compound until 3.20pm.
Last Friday over 80 local residents and supporters came to Bellanaboy to demonstrate their opposition and honour eleven years of resistance. Banners were hung at the gates of Bellanaboy gas refinery which stated that the State is violating the European habitats directives in proceeding with the Corrib project. Local campaigners are asking people to travel to Erris and help to defend the safety of this community and place.