In the quiet and tranquil countryside of Mayo, in the far west of Ireland lies one of the most controversial gas projects. Protestors reside in the solidarity camp at Aughoose, one of the two locations which is part of the Corrib Gas Project. The project is based along the Sruwadaccon Estuary which is designated a Special Area of Conservation. The Corrib Gas Field is located about 50 miles off ErrisHead in CountyMayo, known as the Slyne Trough. An exploration license was granted to Enterprise Oil in 1993, before Royal Dutch Shell took it over in 2002.
Many locals were concerned over the environmental impacts of the project along with the health and safety aspects. What is surprising is that, despite the amount of information that is available on the Shell to Sea Campaign website, there is little information in the media. Originally in 2004, when the protests first began, the issue received a huge amount of public interest and ample media attention. Now in later years with the situation yet unchanged, it appears that mainstream media is losing interest - it is no longer 'news'.
In August 2012, FriendsoftheEarthIrelandheld a conference in Liberty Hall, Dublin, to revive the attention on the on-going protest against Shell. The conference described the controversy and the human rights concerns, and went into great detail surrounding the environmental impact of such a project.
While at the conference, I spoke with Maura Harrington, who has become a local hero and celebrity within the cause.
“We were considered bog-trotters.”
Maura, a 59 year-old local and retired school teacher came into public attention when she began protesting against Shell in 2002.
To look at Maura, she is small in height and of slight build, a build both due to her genes but also to the hunger strike she took part in to capture the attention of Shell and the general public.
I am quite taken aback when I first meet Maura; it’s hard for me to believe that a small, motherly woman of her stature has such power and determination to go against a major force such as Shell.
Maura explained why she is passionate about the campaign:
“On a local level, I feel I should defend this place of beauty and on a national level, I see no economic benefit from the extraction of oil and gas from Ireland.”
After the first planning application for Shell was submitted in 2002, Maura began battling against Shell. This involved 5 years of research and hard work, and as Maura said herself, “We knew nothing about oil and gas extraction, we lived in a green field area where there was never any heavy industry.”
Maura also spoke of how both her and her local community were really only pinpointed on the map after the troubles with Shell:
“We were always ignored, politically, and every other way until we were discovered by Shell.”
What was also apparent on Shell’s initial exploit fo Erris, was the lack of respect for the local communities and the assumption that the people of this area were somewhat less intelligent than the “movers and shakers” of Shell,
“We were considered bog-trotters.” said Maura.
Maura Harrington goes on hunger strike in protest at Shell building a gas pipeline through the village of Rossport, County Mayo in Ireland. Photo: Guardian.co.ukAfter enduring four years of disputes with protestors, Shell's plans were still under way and the first pipe laying ship ‘The Solitaire’ arrived at Erris on the 9th September 2008.
Maura felt desperate and began a hunger strike in protest against the arrival of ‘The Solitaire’, the pipe laying ship assisting the Royal Dutch Shells Corrib Gas Project.
Maura vouched to starve herself until such time as The Solitaire exited Irish waters, a process which took ten days outside the gates of Shell at the solidarity camp.
After ten days, the ship moved further out to sea until it was no longer considered within the vicinity of Irish waters. When this was confirmed, Maura ceased her hunger strike, satisfied that Shell’s efforts had been implicated once more.
“Before beginning the hunger strike I was 6 stone 9 pounds, after the 10 days I weighed in at just 6 stone, over a stone below my healthy weight range.”
For a woman of her size and build, Maura should weigh approximately 7 stone 2, but with the stress of the protest campaign and the hunger strike, Maura is far from her ideal weight.
Maura was jailed for fourteen days for non payment of fees relating to her protests against Shell’s Corrib Gas Project. Not only was she arrested, but was arrested outside the funeral of a local neighbour. Her sentence was furthered by thirty days when, on the day of her arrest, she assaulted a member of the Gardai.
When asked about her experience in Mountjoy prison, Maura replied:
“To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really that bad. I had a lot of support from other women and it also helped that my husband marched outside the prison gates everyday for the month I was in there, holding a banner “Free Maura”.
When security at Shell is mentioned, Maura’s facial expression morphs into a look of complete disdain. Security levels at Shell are at an ultimate high, with highly trained officials in areas such as anti-terrorism, they are not individuals to be messed with:
“I looked into a security man’s eyes one day, I saw no remorse, what I saw was an evil individual, capable of anything.”
Maura takes a lot of negative press in her stride and ignores most of the comments directed at her. In one particular instance, Maura found it hard to forgive and forget. Judge Mary Nevins advised psychiatric assessment for Maura due to her “bizarre behaviour”, a comment that Maura maintains, was of no benefit to the case in question, and was merely a dig in an effort to embarrass Maura.
A somewhat misunderstood individual, Maura simply fights for what she believes is right. There is no denying her dedication to protesting against this project. Even after almost 11 years her enthusiasm still remains.
The Pipe Movie Trailer
An award winning documentary film which took 4 years in the making called,“The Pipe”talks about the Corrib Gas Project and the small farming and fishing Rossport community, taking on the might of Shell Oil and the Irish State. It features interviews with Colin Joyce of Shell Ireland, and interviews with locals and protestors such as Pat O’ Donnell.
The documentary opens with views of the Erris landscape, and from the beginning it is obvious that the undisturbed countryside has the potential of being ruined, and the film also displays disturbing images of protestors and Gardai (Irish police), in what can only be described as a brawl. Interviews with locals are featured extensively in the documentary and one gets a sense of pride these people have over Erris, and their determination in wanting to preserve the land, their livelihoods, and way of life.
Protestors explain the trouble that has been caused and the treatment they have received from Shell and local authorities.
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth
Mission Statement: "Friends of the Earth campaigns for environmental justice and sustainability. We believe in sustainable development - meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
Shell to Sea
Shell to Sea campaigns against the exploitation of the local community in Erris.
Eimear Clabby is a Safeworld Student Writer. She has just completed a BA in Contemporary Culture and Society and has applied for an MA in journalism.
"I have a passion for journalism...
Veronica Guerin remains one of the most influential crime reporters in Ireland.
Veronica, even after her death, is my icon. She fought for what she believed was right, and she wrote about it to express her concern to society. She sums up what true journalism stands for: passion, fierceness, and determination.
I want to become a leading female crime reporter in Ireland and stand out from the male crowd. Crime journalism in Ireland lacks a female component, a position I wish to fill most graciously. In tribute to Veronica’s memory, never ask a man to do a woman’s job."
Sir, – Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte’s response to Fintan O’Toole’s article (August 16th) on our offshore licensing terms and his intention to issue new licences under the current licensing terms is disingenuous in the extreme (Opinion, August 18th).
Madam, - Terry Nolan of Shell's call for "real dialogue" on the Erris pipeline/refinery stand-off does not convince. He says, for example, that "the project has been through a rigorous planning and consents process". This is disingenuous: did he not notice Lorna Siggins's report in your edition of October 19th which referred to omissions from the original environmental impact statement regarding cold venting (the release of contaminated gas into the atmosphere), and explained how the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources refused to allow North Mayo residents to address it on this issue?
A portent of all that was to follow on the discovery of gas off the Mayo coast must surely have been that all of the local SIPTU and other workers who had been involved in the exploration were immediately dropped. Foreign workers from the Phillippines and elsewhere were flown in and out from that point onwards - without ever touching Irish soil.
A Co Mayo businessman told a protest rally this morning that an employee of Shell Ireland had offered him €15,000, with no strings attached, in 2005 for a sports centre he was developing.
Ciarán Ó Murchú, who runs an Irish language school and adventure centre at Elly Bay, said it sounded alarm bells for him because as a large employer he would be effectively intimidating his employees to support Shell if he accepted the money.
He said he would have felt like a traitor to the local community - although an offer of €15,000 was very tempting.
A marine biologist has warned that the increased incidence of strandings of a rare whale species may be due to underwater noise pollution caused by exploration companies.
Dr Simon Berrow, chairman of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said increased seismic activity of exploration companies off the west coast could have contributed to the deaths of four Cuviers beaked whales over the past two months.
THE 1980 government was worried about scaring off potential oil company investors if it placed too much emphasis on the finding of the Whiddy oil terminal disaster tribunal that the two firms involved were seriously at fault.
On the 16th April 2009, a young man from County Tipperary was shot dead by Bolivian special forces in Santa Cruz, along with a Hungarian, Arpad Maygarosi and a Bolivian-Hungarian Eduardo Rosza Flores. The story flashed around the world with graphic images of the dead mens bodies sprawled on the floor of the Hotel Las Americas and covered in blood. The Bolivian authorities claimed that they were right wing terrorists, attempting to assasinate Bolivias first indigenous President, Evo Morales.
“Gardai said Mr Corduff had complained of head and chest pains necessitating an ambulance and two paramedics to travel out from Castlebar. They examined and found no injuries, according to gardai. There is no CCTV footage of an assault and no assault is being investigated by gardai. Mr Corduff had also made no complaint to gardai by yesterday. He spent much of Wednesday under the trailer and was eventually removed at around 4am.” (Jim Cusack, Security Correspondent, Sunday Independent, 26/4/09)
“He had been kicked all over the body and had LOC (Loss Of Consciousness). He had headaches, nausea and vomiting.” (Discharge report for Willie Corduff, Castlebar Hospital, 24/4/09)
1. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the president of a company (details supplied) as confirmed by him in Dáil Éireann on 1 October 2003; when and the location in which it took place; the purpose of the meeting; the names of the persons who were in attendance; and the follow-up meetings or other contacts with the company that have taken place with him or officials of his Department. [23280/03]
"[Shell] remains one of the most contemptible organizations in the history of humankind, and activists should not back off one inch in the fight against their depredations. The future depends on it."
Derrick Crowe - Huffington Post
"One more thing is worth remembering: there is no more contemptible company on earth than Shell Oil. .... They watched the Arctic melt and then they decided that would make it easier for them to drill for more oil. People will remember Shell as a watchword for greed the way we remember, all these millennia later, Pharaoh as a watchword for cruelty."
Bill McKibben - TheNation
"From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of Government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site"
Kevin Moore, Senior Planning Inspector with An Bord Pleanala
"That was the first time Ireland tested out the state – corporate nexus. What they were doing was very simple. They were sorting out their template here in Rossport. The line is: 'go in hard',"
Shell to Sea campaigner Maura Harrington
“We declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources."
from the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, 1919
“We’re justified in resorting to civil disobedience when our cause is valid, we’re motivated by that cause to disobey, we’ve made reasonable efforts to use legal channels first, and we’re sensitive to the likely impact on other people. Civil disobedience is not just justified, but praiseworthy, when it helps to remedy grave injustices in our society.”
Kimberley Brownlee, associate professor in legal and moral philosophy at the Warwick University Law School
“The overall impression given by the internal Garda investigative process was that complaints or matters of concern were put through a process of filtration or distillation so that, by the end of the process, any matter of concern had been removed as a form of impurity, and only what was good was found to remain.”
Senior counsel Seán Guerin's report into Sgt McCabe’s allegations of Garda wrongdoing
“It would be most unjust to jail these two men when I feel that a State agency had led the two men into error and illegality,”
Judge Martin Nolan on his decision not to jail 2 ex-Anglo directors. However at least 20 campaigners have spent time in jail for protesting against of the various bad and illogical decisions that State agencies have made over Corrib. One law for the rich, One for the poor.
"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
Ed Vulliamy speaking on Corrib and the campaign against it
"A former Producer and Editor at RTE, Betty Purcell, revealed that in 2009, she proposed and scheduled 21 documentaries and only one, ‘Living on the Edge’, a Would You Believe programme about Willie and Mary Corduff’s life on their farm in remote Rossport, was questioned and challenged by management. It was even suggested, she said, that because TV3 were about to do a documentary on Corrib ‘maybe we should leave it to them’.
She claimed the pressure on her team was ‘sustained’ and stated her belief that Shell personnel appeared to have ‘automatic access’ to senior management in RTE."