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The half-truths behind Corrib gas controversy

Peter Murtagh - Irish Times

"MAURA HARRINGTON Political Prisoner of Shell” proclaimed the poster being held by her husband, Naoise Ó Mongáin, standing outside the Department of Justice in Dublin on Friday, writes PETER MURTAGH .

So it’s “here we go again” time on the Corrib gas controversy, although at least this time it’s not going to be “Free the Rossport One”. No, according to Ó Mongáin, Shell’s political prisoner is happy to do her 28 days in Mountjoy . . . and an extra 28 days if necessary.

Asked if the campaign against Shell welcomed the support it gets from Republican Sinn Féin, thought by the PSNI and Garda to be the political wing of the Continuity IRA which murdered Const Stephen Carroll, Ó Mongáin said: “We welcome support from everyone and every quarter, we won’t deny support from anyone.”

This is indeed the case. The Shell to Sea campaign, of which Harrington is spokeswoman and perhaps its most fervent advocate, has accepted support from several extreme organisations and individuals whose beliefs and track records would make them unacceptable to most right thinking people. Such individuals include Dominic McGlinchy, the son of the late and notorious INLA murderer of the same name, and former IRA man Robert Jackson, who served 20 years for explosives offences. Each participated in a road blocking protest in north Mayo in November 2007 which turned violent. Each was convicted and given the Probation Act.

Other so-called dissident republicans have attached themselves to the Shell to Sea protest wagon without, it seems, the anti-Shell crowd batting an eyelid. This has contributed to the poisonous mixture of lies and propaganda bleeding from north Mayo for some years.

Apart from the sustained abuse and intimidation of anyone associated with the Corrib project, the poison is evident in some of the language of gross exaggeration used by the protesters and their assertions of conspiracies at every turn.

Consider, for instance, the “note to editors” at the bottom of a Shell to Sea statement last week about Judge Mary Devins. Sitting at Belmullet District Court, Devins sentenced Harrington to 28 days and ordered her to have a psychiatric assessment for assaulting Garda Eamon Berry on June 11th, 2007, by slapping him across the face during a protest. The note said: “Judge Mary Devins is the wife of Government Minister Jimmy Devins.”

The implication is clear: it’s all part of the ginormous conspiracy involving the State, the judiciary, the Garda Síochána, the media and the evil multinational murdering oil company Goliath Shell against the plucky, hard-done-by Davids of north Mayo. I don’t know Mary Devins but I read reports of her work regularly in the Mayo News and I’ve never read, or heard of, anything to question her integrity.

Gardaí in north Mayo are routinely abused, attacked and characterised as “Shell’s cops”. When Harrington was sentenced last week, Shell to Sea’s statement proclaimed: “Political policing sees Maura Harrington jailed.”

Spokesman Terence Conway said: “Now that Shell is about to begin their works in Glengad, it seems that the State operation against the community has kicked into gear.” Pat O’Donnell, a local fisherman, was quoted: “Maura Harrington is a political prisoner sentenced at the behest of Shell.”

Sorry, but Harrington is not a political prisoner and nor was she sentenced at the behest of Shell. Rather, she is a person of strong views about the Corrib project who also happens to have a fairly long record of being drunk and disorderly, verbally abusive and violent, all of which has been detailed in court cases resulting, almost invariably, in conviction.

So please, spare me the guff about the doughty, campaigning political prisoner. Much of what is asserted about the Corrib project is lies or, worse, half-truths.

And the problem with that is that lies usually lodge more firmly in the consciousness than truth.

As Winston Churchill said: “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on.”"