"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
SHELL’S giant tunnel-boring machine was towed from an isolated crossroads in north Mayo on Friday evening after a massive 12-hour operation by Mayo County Council and oil company experts to remove it. The 170-tonne truck and machine section had been stuck at the narrow Glenamoy crossroads since it jack-knifed there early on Tuesday morning last (July 31), blocking the junction on the L1203 and R312 roads.
At 4.30am on Friday morning over 100 gardaí, and security personnel, escorted a convoy of heavy vehicles to the crossroads for the removal operation, which involved widening the road to facilitate the freeing of the truck.
The machine is called Fionnuala, after one of The Children of Lír, who, according to mythology, were turned into swans and banished to the nearby island of Inisglora off Erris by their wicked stepmother, Aoife.
Fionnuala was brought to the main project site for the refinery at Bellanaboy and not to its original destination, where the subsea tunnel is to be dug for the raw gas. Another massive truck, also stuck at the crossroads behind the jack-knifed one, reversed the two miles back to the refinery to ensure a similar incident would not recur.
Apologising for any inconvenience caused to locals, a spokesman for Mayo County Council said ‘the overnight operation was due to protester activity’. He said the local authority wished to assure people that ‘there was no concern regarding the load-carrying capacity of the Glenamoy Bridge’.
Another county council spokesman told The Mayo News that metal spikes embedded in the road by protesters on Thursday night had damaged a haulier’s vehicle. He said that ‘such actions were reckless in the extreme and endangered the lives of all road users in the area’.
A Rossport Solidarity Camp spokesman said the gardaí had implemented checkpoints from about ten kilometres away at Bangor Erris. Veteran campaigner Maura Harrington was arrested at one of the checkpoints, and the rear window of her van was smashed when she declined to get out. The van was subsequently impounded and Ms Harrington was detained at Belmullet Garda Station but released later. She was charged with public-order and driving offences.
A statement by Shell E&P Ireland last Friday said it ‘apologises once again to the local community and to all road users who were inconvenienced by this incident’.
“The operation to remove the vehicle, which was carrying part of the Corrib tunnel boring machine, was successfully completed at approximately 3pm this afternoon. This was carried out in consultation with the Gardaí and Mayo County Council,” the statement said.
Shell had also apologised immediately after the incident occurred.
MEANWHILE, local residents continue to question the local authority’s assertion that the proper permits exist for this 170-tonne lorry to cross the tiny bridge at Glenamoy.
Ms Betty Schult said she travelled the round trip of 100 miles to Castlebar on Friday afternoon to view the special permit by appointment with the Assistant County Secretary, John McHale.
“Just as I landed in the car-park I got a phone-call to say it was not available and had been removed from the file. I was told they would provide it on Tuesday,” Ms Schult said.
Earlier last week a county council spokesman told The Mayo News it had issued special permits some weeks ago for the ‘abnormal load’ traversing the county. He explained that such permits had to be issued by each local authority that the convoy of heavy vehicles had crossed after it landed at Dublin Port.
However, Rossport resident Mary Corduff said a council engineer told her that the bridge had not been surveyed. Reportedly, the jack-knifed lorry proceeded to the Glenamoy crossroads after it failed to make a turn to its destination at Aughoose, the site for the subsea tunnel works that will connect the raw gas to the inland refinery.
“This whole fiasco is further proof that this community is under siege and has had valid worries for 12 years about Corrib Gas. We cannot trust the people in authority and there is no transparency,” Mary Corduff said.
Her husband, Willie Corduff of the Rossport Five, was arrested earlier in the week at a stand-off at Glenamoy crossroads after he questioned the suitability of such heavy machinery using the minor and boggy road. He was later released without charge.
Spokesman for Pobal Chill Chomáin John Monaghan said two of An Bord Pleanála’a conditions for granting planning permission for the controversial project had been flouted.
“Condition 21 stipulates that all roads affected directly and indirectly by the project must be surveyed and Condition 13 states that relevant information must be in the public domain. Over the last few days residents have been given the run-around over the special permits granted for this operation,” Mr Monaghan said.
Sinn Féin county councillor Rose Conway-Walsh said ‘the health and safety of a whole community was put at risk by the blocking of the junction of the L1203 and R312’.
“The lack of consultation about the transporting by road of this exceptional heavy convoy is appalling. I can categorically state that neither Shell nor Mayo Council consulted me as a local councillor about the transporting of this tunnel boring machine. Had I been consulted, the first question I would have asked is has the carrying capacity of the route been assessed by Mayo County Council and what health and safety plan has been put in place,” Cllr Conway-Walsh said.
She has called on the council to provide a report on how the route was assessed. A council spokesman told The Mayo News that it had ‘adhered to all the proper procedures’.
PROTESTS impeded the cross-country progress of the giant tunnel-boring machine after its arrival in Dublin port on Sunday night (July 29). The convoy, was flanked by several garda vans and outriders, as well as security personnel. It included four lorries transporting sections of the tunnel boring machine, Fionnuala. When assembled the machine weighs 500 tonnes and is 149 metres long.
After the convoy stopped outside Sligo for a while, it proceeded to Ballina where Shell to Sea had called for a protest. Scuffles broke out as the convoy made its way through the narrow streets of the north Mayo capital. Later, Maura Harrington blocked the convoy for a time at the Bellacorrick crossroads.
Con Coughlan of Rossport Solidarity Camp said 30 protesters were corralled at the side of a disused pub at Bellacorrick for a time by a force of over 100 gardaí. He also said that an old Shell barrel, filled with cement, was used for a subsequent ‘lock-on’ on the final leg of the journey between Bangor-Erris and the refinery site at Bellanaboy.
A garda spokesman confirmed four protesters were arrested for public-order offences during the protests.
Local residents from the nearby villages of Rossport and Carrowteigue were unable to travel to work or make hospital appointments due to the jack-knifed truck. The road is also a tourist route along the Atlantic edge leading to the Céide Fields interpretive centre.
Mayo County Council had implemented an emergency road-widening operation by Tuesday night to facilitate traffic.
“Apart from the local disruption, including lack of access for emergency vehicles, many local residents are concerned that such loads were allowed to use roads not fit for such use and that that the convoy – with an extensive garda escort – ended up off the designate haulage route the adherence to which is a legal requirement and part of the planning permission for this latest part of the Corrib scheme,” Mr Monaghan said.
Mr Monaghan asked why was ‘this breach of planning assisted by An Garda Síochána?’ He also asked what action would Mayo County Council now take against Shell?
A county council spokesman said there would be no action taken against Shell, as all the proper permits were in place.