"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
When I mentioned to neighbours, friends, family the talk Joe asked me to give today, what came across all the time is a strong sense of isolation, of feeling cut off, not being understood and of being ignored.
That’s why the very first thing I want to say is Thank You to everyone in AFRI for always finding ways to ease this feeling, by opening doors, speaking out, staying in touch.
I want to thank Nnimmo, Oisin and Richard very very much for coming all the way to Glenamoy and for bringing with you your experience and your friendship. Joe mentioned the word tapestry, and I can imagine that today will be a colourful and unusual piece of tapestry because we will hear your stories and they will be part of ours.
I also want to thank the Rossport Solidarity Camp in this context. Very few communities can count on something that all of you bring to us consistently and genuinely: Solidarity.
Joe asked me to talk about occupation here in Kilcommon and in the greater area, in Erris.
The strand I will add to today’s tapestry consists of many fibres. Fibres of different lengths, different colour, and different texture. I will read out quotes from my neighbours, family and friends about their experiences, thoughts and emotions over the past 10 years.
- When I go and check on my cattle at night, torches light up and shine in my face.
- I wake up in the middle of the night because a jeep full of private army personnel had landed on my car park.
- I go to my local church and find the car park is full of paddywagons and patrol cars. When I ask why they are here, I’m told that’s none of my business
- When my wife hangs out the washing she realises she is being filmed.
- I need to visit my elderly client. A policeman insists on driving me there in my own car.
- Strangers come here and know everything about me while I will never even know who they are.
- I come home at night and the boss of the security firm pulls away from my driveway.
- I worry when I’ve a squad car sitting behind me on the road when I’m driving along by myself or with my mother.
- My post has been tampered with
- When I talk on the phone I’m always aware someone might listen to the conversation
- Private security men direct the local traffic
It’s always there- It occupies all senses:
- I built my house so that we can see the beach and the Ocean from every window. Now what we see is military style fencing, flood lights, cameras, watchmen.
- I feel cut off from the outside world. Swarmed on all sides and no way out...claustrophobic.
- I close my curtains so the constant glare from the flood lights does not get in.
- I have to keep the radio on all the time to blank out the noise from the machinery.
- When I close my eyes I see engraved on my retina the picture of men and women wearing a uniform the colour of high vis yellow, jackets, white helmets and black masks.
- I see the police, security vans, construction vehicles whenever I leave the house, going to the shop, to the doctor, or to work.
- I wake up from loud rumbling outside my house: the convoys of Lorries have started to come.
- My stomach is in knots. My blood pressure is too high.
- I have nightmares
- When I leave Erris for a day, I feel relieve, less anger, happier thoughts cross my mind.
Loss of freedom, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary judgments, arbitrary abuse.
- The police pushes me back from bringing my wheel bin to the roadside
- The police stop me from leaving my car park.
- I travel home from a swim. Out of the blue the police stop me, flashing their blue lights and search my car.
- I always lock my doors of the car when I’m driving anywhere local, I wouldn’t’ do that in Dublin city centre
- My family wants me to move away because they fear for my safety
- A sense of powerlessness
- I realise that I cannot protect my family from this.
- There is division amongst schoolchildren and amongst their parents.
- When I took my granddaughter on her first train journey, she asked me why the men in yellow jackets also rule the train station .
- I’d like to go cycling canoeing, walking but I can’t bring myself to face the security installations.
- When I do go, I’m constantly aware that I’m being watched and monitored. I cannot enjoy these activities any longer.
- I see a crime being committed and the police arrests the victim, not the perpetrator
- I meet Vans with blacked out windows on the village road all the time
- The first thing I see in the morning is a patrol car going past my house very slowly
- Media blank outs.
Loss of trust
- my elected representative lies straight to my face
- Even a nice thing like a small plane flying low on a clear day makes me suspicious.
- I experience hostile response from authorities
- I witness the judge in court not batting an eyelid when listening to blatant perjury by police.
- Looking at recent media reports about the surveillance of people here makes me realise that Shell’s occupation of our environment is regarded as a given fact.
- What was always there, making up our community is now being claimed by the multinational company: the beauty of the landscape, the spirit of community and volunteerism, love of sports, fishing grounds, skills, resources.
- Sometimes I feel like crumbling under the raw sense of loss.
This brutal change of our lives has been forced on all of us. Nobody can escape the reality of what happens when a multinational company succeeds in manipulating a government, when greed and recklessness seem to rule.
Occupation is never permanent.
To live under siege might feel like a nightmare that is smothering us.
But it is not.
It seems like a thick layer of oppression was spread out over the community.
But underneath this layer there is life:
Resourcefulness. Words, music and colour. Laughter and loyalty and friendship
There is strength and an awareness which creates resilience and change. We feel a real urge for change and a spirit of renewal that not just sustains us but that we can share with others. Sometimes we feel weak and tired and muddled. But really, we are not. We are strong and determined and clear!
Occupation can never last.
Betty Schult, 19th August 2012