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Full steam ahead for fisherman ‘The Chief’

Áine Ryan - Mayo News

CORRIB gas protestor and Erris fisherman, Pat O’Donnell has revealed his prison term proved ‘to be traumatic for his wife, his children and his 91-year-old mother, Mary O’Donnell’.
However, Mr O’Donnell, known locally as The Chief, told The Mayo News yesterday he will continue to oppose the controversial project.
“The project is wrong and when something is wrong you have to stand up against it. After a holiday with my wife, Mary, I will be back out fishing in Broadhaven Bay in a few weeks time,” O’Donnell said.
The 52-year-old was released from Castlerea prison last Saturday morning after serving just over five months of a seven-month sentence imposed in February last, at Castlebar Circuit Court by Judge Raymond Groarke.
He received a three-month sentence for threatening and abusive behaviour towards a garda at Glengad, the landfall site for the project, on September 13, 2008, and an additional four months for wilful obstruction of a peace officer on September 14, 2008, at Doolough, Geesala.
O’Donnell was greeted by a large crowd outside the prison last Saturday afternoon. He declined a last-minute offer of release the night before.
A message from the Mayor of Roscommon, Cllr Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, was read to the 120 participants at the rally. It stated: “Your bravery in standing up to tyranny should be commended. It was not people who hid under the beds that won freedom for Ireland, it was people like yourself. It was not crooks like Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke that this state was created for. It was for people like you. Your dedication to what is right is what gives people hope that things can change. Without people like Pat O’ Donnell this country would be a lesser place.”
Speaking yesterday, Mr O’Donnell observed that his worst fears had been realised when he heard of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 last. The rig sank two days later, leaving the well gushing at the sea floor and causing  a massive offshore oil spill.
“I really feel for my fishermen colleagues down there, as their livelihoods have been destroyed, as well as their environment.”
O’Donnell thanked his fellow members of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association (EIFA) for their support during his incarceration, particularly for the letter they sent to the governor urging his early release. Coincidentally, Shell announced yesterday that EIFA and the Erris Lobster Conservation and Restocking Association (ELCRA) have reached agreement in relation to the facilitation of its offshore works programme for the Corrib gas project in 2010 and 2011.
According to a Shell statement: “The agreement involves financial compensation to the fishermen; mutually agreed working practices to minimise disturbance and maximise safety, in particular at Ballyglass Pier; ongoing inspection of water-discharge facilities at the Bellanaboy terminal and the continuation of the €1.3m Marine Fund for the development of sustainable marine-related projects in the area.”
However, Mr O’Donnell argued that the fishermen ‘should not have accepted compensation terms until all the planning issues had been resolved’.
In a related development, An Bord Pleanála plans to reopen last years’ oral hearing into the project in Belmullet on Tuesday, August 24, next. This is to facilitate submissions on Shell’s provision of further information on the latest modification to the pipeline route.