"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',"
The Pipe, which recently aired on SBS, is a gripping insight into a small Irish community’s battle against Shell and the multinational’s efforts to construct a gas pipeline beneath Rossport, Co Mayo.
The pipeline and the Shell to Sea campaign that sprung up in opposition to it have featured in Irish news headlines for several years now. It may be difficult to come to this film with an open mind.
The ongoing dispute is comprised of government decision-making, varying applications of Irish and EU legislation, court interpretations of the rights of the community and of Shell and the underlying politicisation of a community struggle.
The Pipe is the story of the community’s struggle and it alone.
The film opens with luscious panoramic views of Broadhaven Bay, juxtaposed with ugly clashes between the local community and members of An Garda Síochána.
This powerful opening scene makes sure we are aware there is something very wrong in an otherwise idyll.
Through the main protaganists, we are given a clear picture of the disappointment, frustration and sense of betrayal that is felt within the community over Shell’s behaviour and what is perceived to be abandonment by the State.
Willie Corduff is a local farmer who was among The Rossport Five jailed for 94 days in 2005 for not allowing Shell on to his land. He is determined to maintain his family’s farming tradition.
Monica Muller, a German migrant to the region, takes a legal route to stop Shell entering The Commonage, an area of land shared equally among the residents. She is left baffled by the Irish State’s differing responses to illegality by Shell and the local community.
Pat O’Donnell is a local fisherman who has spent his entire life seafaring in Broadhaven Bay. His sons are seen following him into the tradition of crab-fishing. O’Donnell’s struggle against Solitaire, the pipe-laying ship brought into the bay by Shell, is particularly poignant.
Thematically, The Pipe echoes The Field, that great John B Keane play which focussed on an Irish preoccupation: the land.
The sense of outrage running through the local community is fed by a gut feeling that Shell has no proprietary right to enter, alter or build upon the soil. Injustice meets them at manys a turn.
A minor frustration in this well-paced and beautifully filmed documentary is the lack of ‘super’ titles for each individual interviewed on screen.
Also, the film offers no exploration of the opportunism displayed by some members of Ireland’s political left in attaching themselves to – and at times distorting – the motives of the local community.
Shell are not interviewed although it seems the actions shown in the film would speak louder than their words anyway.
These are but minor gripes. Where the film fascinates is in its portrayal of the often divisive effect that the Corrib Gas Pipeline has had on the local community.
Willie Corduff explains that a local guard, part of the response to ongoing protests, will no longer ask how his kids are. He has, in the law’s eyes, become ‘a thug’. Willie’s observation that such division will stay with the local community for generations is a harrowing reminder of the Irish penchant for a cleave.
The Pipe is available from the SBS Shop for $24.99.