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Projecting Change - The Pipe

Projecting Change Canada


83mins / 2010 / IRE
Canadian Premiere

In a remote corner of the West of Ireland sits Broadhaven Bay. It is the perfect picture postcard, where the high cliffs of Erris Head and the Stags of Broadhaven stand sentry at the mouth of the bay against the mighty Atlantic, as if protecting the delicate golden sands of Glengad beach and the tiny village of Rossport, which nestles behind the dunes. However, this peaceful tranquility belies the turmoil that lies beneath, and the unique nature of the coastline which has sustained generations of farmers and fishermen, has also delivered to Shell Oil the perfect landfall for the Corrib Gas Pipeline.

On 29th June, 2005, five men from the townland of Rossport, Co. Mayo, were imprisoned for 94 days for defying a court injunction allowing Shell Oil workers to enter their land to lay a high pressure, raw gas pipeline close to their homes. It soon became clear that the Irish state had subverted the constitutional rights of its citizens in order to facilitate Shell to ‘grab’ tracts of farmland against the wishes of the landowners. In a land where the memory of British landlords survives in the psyche, Shell’s attempt to force through the pipe evoked huge emotion.  The community reacted against this aggressive ‘invasion’ from outside by blockading Shell’s multi-billion euro refinery and pipeline, bringing the project to a complete halt . The whole Corrib saga proved to be a huge public relations disaster for Shell around the world. However Shell quickly recovered from this and within a year the Irish government sent a force of over 200 police to this tiny community to break the blockade and facilitate the resuming of work on the project. In an area which previously had only one policeman, this forced removal of local people from the gates of the refinery set in train a cycle of conflict which goes on to this day.

‘The Pipe’ follows 3 members of this small community from a quiet rural life to the arrival of Shell into their community, and the fear and anxiety which the impending project brings. Not only are they flung into a tumultuous struggle with Shell and the state, but they are also forced to battle with elements within their own campaign who seek to divide and control, as their community is torn apart by the stresses of choosing to support or oppose the oil company. Yet, despite the seriousness of the events surrounding them, their resilience and humanity never wains, and even in their darkest moments their wit and humour has an uncanny ability to counter the despair

As the story develops, we begin to understand farmer Willie Corduff’s connection to the land which was handed down to him by his father, and why he is prepared to go to prison rather than allow Shell to take the fields that his father reclaimed from the peat with nothing but a shovel. We feel for Willie and his wife, Mary, as they become exhausted and disillusioned with the campaign as external forces hijack and manipulate the local cause. They see Shell encroaching around their remote farm no matter what they do. Monica Muller, who moved from Germany to the refuge of a small idyllic farm in Rossport over 30 years ago, was ostracised by her neighbours and accused of ‘selling-out’ due to her adherence to Shell’s injunction, and acceptance that the project is going ahead. However, when Shell change their plans and try to move the pipeline route onto the peat bog ‘commonage’ held in common by all Rossport residents, Monica discovers that Shell have not been fully honest in their dealings with her and so begins a court battle which has implications for the entire project, and Monica’s torn relationship with her neighbours. Pat ‘The Chief’ O Donnell is the bays most renowned fisherman, and a local hero following a dramatic sea rescue 14 years ago. He and his son become bogged down in the courts and criminalised due to their refusal to accept compensation and move out of the way for the Shell contractors at sea. Legal bills and boats tied up due to days spent in court are forcing Pat into a desperate corner both financially and mentally. In spite of this, when the worlds largest pipelaying ship, The Solitaire, enters Broadhaven Bay to lay the offshore pipe, Pat ‘The Chief’ O’Donnell stands alone between it and connecting the pipe to the beach-head.

In the most dramatic clash of cultures in modern Ireland, the rights of farmers over their fields, and of fishermen to their fishing grounds, has come in direct conflict with one of the worlds most powerful oil companies. When the citizens look to their state to protect their rights, they find that the state has put Shell’s right to lay a pipeline over their own.

The Pipe is a story of a community tragically divided, and how they deal with a pipe that could bring economic prosperity or destruction of a way of life shared for generations.

Posted Date: 
30 May 2011