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Erris fishermen talk to Ó Cuív about The Chief’s jailing

Áine Ryan, Mayo News

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Erris fishermen voiced their concerns about the jailing of fisherman Pat O’Donnell to Minister for  Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív at a meeting yesterday afternoon (Monday) in north Mayo, The Mayo News has learned.
This comes days after Socialist MEP Joe Higgins deemed Mr O’Donnell’s seven-month sentence ‘an outrageous attack on the right to protest’ and local community group Pobal Chill Chomáin warned that ‘Pat O’Donnell and his family have become the latest victims’ of the controversial Corrib project.  
Mr Eddie Diver, the Chairman of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association (EIFA) stressed to The Mayo News that his group was not commenting on the judicial process but rather the particular circumstances caused by the protracted Corrib controversy that had led to Mr O’Donnell’s incarceration.  
“We deplore the circumstances that led to Pat O’Donnell’s jailing, especially at this time of the year. The fishing season has just started and will be over by the time he comes out of prison,” Eddie Diver told The Mayo News yesterday.
“We appeal to those in power to facilitate some compassionate leave since everything to do with these events are so unusual,” Mr Diver continued.
A fortnight ago, 52-year-old Pat O’Donnell, known locally as ‘The Chief’, was jailed for seven months at Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court by Judge Raymond Groarke. A three-month sentence was imposed for threatening and abusive behaviour towards Sergeant Cathal O’Malley at Glengad on September 13, 2008 and a consecutive four-month sentence for the willful obstruction of a peace officer at Doolough, Geesala on September 14 2008.
Meanwhile Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin. challenged Judge Groarke’s dubbing of Mr O’Donnell as ‘a thug’ and ‘a bully’.
“The jailing of Shell to Sea protester, Pat O’Donnell, for an incredible seven months is an outrageous attack on the right to protest. Contrary to the statement of Judge Raymond Groarke, Pat O’Donnell is no thug or bully – he is a hero for standing up to Shell to defend the safety of his community,” Mr Higgins has stated on his website.
He continued: “The Irish state has played the role of thug and bully in this conflict. They have intimidated, beaten, and repeatedly jailed peaceful protesters for actively opposing the giveaway of €420 billion worth of oil and gas off the west coast of Ireland.”
A statement by Pobal Chill Chomáin noted that Pat O’Donnell was ‘a well-respected local employer and fifth generation fisherman’ who due to his activism ‘has been subjected to a campaign of harassment, intimidation and physical attacks’. It also referred to the mysterious sinking of Mr O’Donnell’s boat, the Iona Isle, last Summer, in Broadhaven Bay, while he and another man were aboard.

Shell scales back work programme
Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) has recently advised all stakeholders of its scaled-back offshore works programme for 2010, which, it is envisaged, will ease community tensions, particularly at the protest flashpoint of Glengad.
The principal change to the programme is the postponement of the laying of the umbilical. It  runs from the Glengad landfall site to the Corrib field 84kms west, facilitating the remote control of the subsea gas production facilities
A statement noted: “This decision was made for operational and community reasons. SEPIL expects that by 2011 the permitting processes in relation to the onshore pipeline will be further advanced, which will allow for an integrated approach to planning the work schedule for both it and the outstanding offshore works.”
It continued: “Also, the laying of the umbilical would have necessitated the re-establishment of a works site at Glengad. In the past this has been a site where tensions have arisen during works. Having no works site there in 2010 will, it is hoped, minimise the exposure of the local community to such potential tensions.”