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Shell Corrib Gas - Who are the real Thugs & Bullies?

Niall Harnett - Shell to Sea / Rossport Solidarity Camp

A number of high profile Shell to Sea campaigners including 'the Chief' Pat O'Donnell and Maura Harrington sought to appeal certain criminal convictions in cases heard last week at Castlebar Circuit Court from 9th - 11th February. A few of the appeals were successful but some of the convictions were upheld by the court.

Judge Raymond Groarke concluded that Pat O'Donnell is a thug and a bully, and Maura Harrington is a vigilante.

This article has a look at the reality.


Court Cases.

Pat O'Donnell was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment on a charge of a 'breach of the peace' and 4 months imprisonment for 'obstructing a Garda'. Judge Raymond Groarke ordered that the sentences be run consecutively. As a result Pat will serve 7 months in custody at Castlerea Prison, Castlerea, Co Roscommon. These were two separate incidents involving the Gardaí at a time of high tension surrounding Maura's hunger strike at Glengad in September 2008, that gave rise to the charges against Pat.

Maura Harrington was convicted on a number of counts including careless driving, obstruction of the Shell site, trespass onto the site, and damage to a Shell net on the cliff face at Glengad. The net was there to stop sandmartins from nesting. Sentencing in most of Maura's cases has been adjourned for 12 months.

To be fair to Judge Raymond Groarke he gave very clear reasons for his decisions and two brief lectures in law to the court which left no-one in any doubt about where he was coming from.

A step too far for Judge Raymond Groarke.

But what was very unfair, unfortunate and untrue was Judge Groarke's bottom line conclusion at the end of the day that Pat O'Donnell is a bully and a thug, and Maura Harrington is a vigilante. For a man who, in his own words, likes to keep things 'tight' in his court, this was a step too far for the judge to take and handed the attending media just the kind of quotes they were looking for to make sensational headlines.

Of course it's reasonable for a judge to come to a verdict in a case based on the evidence presented to him in court. But to characterise people as thugs, bullies and vigilantes on the basis of a handful of incidents over 10 years of opposition to the Corrib Gas Project, is jumping to a general assumption not based on the evidence, and it's wrong to throw out careless observations like this as titbits to the media and into the public domain.

If a court of law can arrive at the truth about anything, it can only be in relation to a specific incident relating to a specific charge on the basis of evidence produced in court in accordance with the law. And even if a judge comes to the conclusion that someone's behaviour is unacceptable in relation to an incident, it's fundamentally unfair to assume that that person behaves that way all the time or as a general rule.

I've known Pat O'Donnell for nearly 5 years now and I can say with a lot more certainty and knowledge than Judge Groarke, that he's neither a thug nor a bully.

Pat O'Donnell's Reality.

Pat has stood up to Shell since the Erris Inshore Fisherman's Association united in 2005 to oppose offshore pipelaying in Broadhaven Bay. Regrettably, Shell paid off the fishermen over the course of the last few years. Pat refused any pay-off by Shell, including an offer of 300,000 euro in 2009. Yes … Three Hundred Thousand Euro. Pat and his son Johnathan have been arrested while fishing in their boats and detained in custody, with no charges arising, on different occasions while Shell boats tore their fishing gear from their moorings at sea. Pat has been singled out along with his brothers for assault by Gardaí at Bellanaboy and been punched in the face sustaining facial injuries and broken teeth. In the early morning of June 11th 2009, as the pipe-laying ship the Solitaire prepared to steam to Broadhaven Bay, Pat's fishing boat was boarded by 4 masked men, 2 of whom held him and his crewman Martin McDonnell at gunpoint in the wheelhouse while the 2 others went down to the engine room to scuttle the boat. The boat sank to ocean floor while Pat and Martin had to be rescued from their lifeboat.

Let's put it this way, Pat knows a thing or two about thugs and bullies.

He has come under intense focus, pressure and attack for opposing Shell.

He blew off some steam at the Gardaí at protests surrounding Maura's hunger strike in 2008, fell foul of the law and is serving 7 months in jail for a breach of the peace and the obstruction of a Garda. His behaviour on these occasions may not be justified terms of the law, but I for one would be more than willing to excuse him under the circumstances. But what's inexcusable is for a judge to go on and brand him as something that he's not, in ignorance of the circumstances and with no understanding of the reality with which Pat O'Donnell has to live.

Pat may have made mistakes, we all do, but now Pat has to live with an extra tarnish attached to him by the added mistake of Judge Groarke who went a step to far.

Latitude in Maura Harrington's Case.

On the other hand, with regard to Maura Harrington's cases Judge Groarke gave her a very fair hearing in mitigation, and a lot of latitude in outlining her circumstances and reasons for opposing Shell. The law may be no 'respecter of persons' but I think it's fair to say that the judge was very interested to see what motivated Maura and gave her every opportunity to give himself 'options' as to how to deal with her. Maura was facing up 12-18 months in jail for her convictions but, in a surprise move, he adjourned sentencing for a further 12 months.

Conspiracy theorists would say that this was a 'political move', ie 'The state have got their scalp with the Chief in jail, with associated media smear and that's enough to discredit the campaign for the moment. To jail Maura Harrington, a woman and a retired schoolteacher, for a anything up to and including 18 months would have backfired'.

I'm no good at conspiracy theories myself and I'm naïve enough to continue to believe in the good nature of man so I would simply say that Judge Groarke gave Maura a break, out of respect.

It's a pity, to say the least, that he didn't afford the same latitude to the Chief and give him the opportunity to be heard in the same way.

Judge Groarke summed up some of Maura's actions as 'vigilante type activity'. Maura's conviction for careless driving stemmed from when she had been following a van which appeared to be driven without tax or insurance by Shell security personnel, IRMS. Maura had also entered a Shell compound and security cabin in 2008 seeking the identities of IRMS security personnel when they arrived in the Glengad area with cameras filming anything and anyone that moved.

Again … careless driving and trespass might not be justifiable in terms of the law, but I think a reasonable person would find it understandable in circumstances where children were being filmed by Shell security guards while undressing to swim at the beach.

Courts, in my experience anyway, are reluctant to hear about 'circumstances' and 'context'. They like to focus on facts relating only to the charge being prosecuted by the state, which puts a defendant at a disadvantage. In Maura's case however, the judge gave her latitude and heard some of the circumstances, in fairness to him. Although he disqualified her from driving for two years, he has not sent her to jail.

But for Judge Groarke to sum up her actions as vigilantism is to say the least an exaggeration, and again, in my opinion, a step to far and an unnecessary titbit to be throwing to the attending media who love to have a go at Shell to Sea for reasons I simply do not understand.

A Good Example of Mainstream Media Ireland.

Media headlines followed in the Irish Times and on RTE television news with accusations of thugs, bullies, vigilantes and secret police.

Tom Shiel, in the Irish Times, wrote as follows:
'Vigilante Behaviour and camera reconnaissance by “private armies” in the Corrib gas dispute will not be tolerated, Judge Raymond Groarke insisted yesterday'.

Tom Shiel has been very biased in his reporting for 'the paper of record'this week. He failed to report in his article 'Shell to Sea activists lose their appeals' that some of those appeals were successful and convictions were overturned. Despite being reminded of this he failed to put the record straight in the following day's Irish Times day after promising that he would.

In Mr Shiel's article 'Judge brands Corrib activists as private armies' he wrote as follows:
'Later in a case against Mr Terence Conway, the judge referred to the fact that the accused had been filming at the Shell compound in Glengad, Pollathomas, where gas from the Corrib field is to come ashore. “There are no circumstances in which reconnaissance by private armies will be tolerated,” the judge stated.'

What Tom Shiel failed to report was what Judge Groarke said in full and the context in which he said it in relation to another case against Shell to Sea campaigner Terence Conway.

Mr Conway had given evidence that he had seen IRMS security driving around the area doing surveillance with cameras. IRMS security personnel also told the court, in the same case, that they had been directed by Jim Farrell, head of IRMS Security, to drive out from the Shell compound on a patrol of the area which included surveillance of the Rossport Solidarity Camp. Driving the car was a man called Tibor Revesz.

Tibor Revesz is wanted by the Bolivian authorities in relation to a failed attempt to start a civil war in that country, in which Irish man Michael O'Dwyer, who also worked for IRMS at the Shell site, was shot dead by Bolivian Special Forces in April 2009.

What Judge Groarke said was that 'reconnaissance missions' would not be tolerated by the courts, 'whatever side they're on'. This was a direct quote from the judge which Tom Shiel conveniently omitted from his article in the Irish Times.

Nor did Mr Shiel make any reference to Judge Groarke's exhortation to the assembled public in the court, urging anyone with a complaint in that regard to come back to the Circuit Court to seek an injunction to prohibit that kind of behaviour.

It has to be said that this was a very fair bit of advice from Judge Groarke and has to be interpreted to have been given to local residents in the context of what he had heard about the conduct of Shell / IRMS security guards.

Why Tom Shiel should attach the judge's criticisms to Shell to Sea and to Shell to Sea only, is a serious question that needs to be answered by him, and complaints should follow.

Tom Shiel has crossed a boundary here in selecting the facts in order to deceive.

And for Judge Groarke to resort to using a word like 'vigilante' to describe a Shell to Sea activist in these circumstances is very reckless given media tendencies to abuse their publishing power.

Shell to Sea is a Non-Violent Campaign.

To suggest that Shell to Sea people are thugs, bullies, vigilantes and secret police would suggest that Shell, the State, the Gardaí and IRMS are coming under a violent physical attack of some sort.

Shell to Sea activism has been built on the principles of non-violent direct action and peaceful protest. No-one has come under physical attack, as a rule, and violence or weapons of any description have never been used to harm any person working for Shell or the State.

When the Rossport Five were sent to jail in 2005 the local community effected the suspension of work on the Shell project for a period of 15 months, by setting up a simple picket which peacefully blockaded the Shell refinery site at Bellanaboy from the summer of 2005 to the autumn of 2006.

In October of 2006 the Gardaí broke that picket with extreme aggression and violence, injuring many people who engaged in peaceful sit-down protests and the like. Hundreds of people would show up at the gates of Bellanaboy from dawn till dusk throughout that winter and the next, and never a punch or a stone was thrown at a member of An Garda Siochana or a Shell security guard over a period of about 18 months of intense daily protests around the Shell refinery site.

Shell to Sea campaigners have acted with considerable restraint at all times in the face of a brutal show of force from the state and violent Gardaí drunk on alcohol and impunity.

The last few years has seen the focus of protest shift from the refinery site at Bellanaboy to the pipeline 'landfall' site at Glengad beach where Gardaí have established a base inside the Shell compound and actively protect illegal works being carried out there.

And in the face of all this, Gardaí and Shell security know that they are not under any threat from any form of vigilantism, violence or personal attack.

In other words, they know that are safe.

Angry Incidents and Confrontations.

Yes there have been incidents, confrontations, strong words and 'pushing and shoving' at busy protests. 'Public order policing isn't pretty' is a quote you'll often hear from Gardaí in court in defence of their conduct and violence in policing protests. And Judge Groarke has made the observation that the Gardaí deserve the support of the courts. Maybe some protests aren't pretty either, but protesters are bearing the brunt of the law, unlike the Gardaí.

People get angry and have a right to be so, but protesters have not and do not use violence to protest. Sometimes, rarely, individuals test the boundaries of the law, and may even lose the run of themselves, and for that you can be sure they'll be prosecuted aggressively by Gardaí, but these are exceptions to the rule. Yes there has been force used to try to remove Shell fences which denied local people access to the public beach, but the law does make provision for the use of force in certain circumstances. But force has never been used in the way that a 'vigilante' might use it.


For the last ten years, since the Corrib Gas Project was first mooted on the year 2000, local people have been ignored, bullied, betrayed, beaten and criminalised by the State, on behalf of Shell. The response of the local community and their supporters has been one of considerable restraint in the circumstances. In those circumstances, if Pat O'Donnell and Maura Harrington have made any mistakes in the eyes of the law, or transgressed the boundaries of the law, then so be it. In these circumstances these mistakes are excusable and forgiveable, in my opinion. The law and the courts does not take that view, and consequently any one convicted of offences will pay the price.

But this is far from being a thug, or a bully or a vigilante.

Surely Judge Groarke can see that.

So who are the Bullies and the Thugs?

Gardaí have sworn a constitutional oath to protect, defend and vindicate the rights of the citizen. Shell to Sea campaigners will tell you in real terms, the value of that oath, with their accounts to the contrary. A report by an the international Human Rights group 'Global Community Monitor' which recorded accounts of threats, harassment, violence and injuries at the hands of An Garda Síochána can be read here:

Solicitors and barristers know well from experience what the Gardaí are like and the way they behave. Yet when the lawyers become judges they seem to conveniently forget.

Putting it simply - The Gardaí are the Bullies and the Thugs.

Shell Mercenaries.

Shell security personnel employed by IRMS (Integrated Risk Management Services) are made up of a mixture of ex-army and 'special forces' personnel, mostly international, some with direct links to criminal organisations. Tibor Revesz, the Hungarian ex-soldier who worked on surveillance for IRMS at the Shell site Glengad is a founding member of a fascist paramilitary organisation called the Szekler Legion and is implicated in an attempted assassination of Bolivian president Evo Morales.

See 'The Shadow over Erris: Shell, IRMS and Bolivia' here:

In a strange twist of fate Tibor Revesz was asked by Gardaí to give evidence in the case against Terence Conway. It was no surprise that he didn't show up in court.

The truth is stranger than fiction.

The Sunday Mail says that the truth is far worse, here:

Hundreds of IRMS security are employed by Shell to work on land at the site at Glengad and at sea in fast Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBS) in the protection of Shell working boats.

In June 2009 Pat O'Donnell's boat was sunk as the largest pipelaying vessel in the world, the Solitaire prepared to steam through his fishing gear to lay pipe at Broadhaven Bay. Willie Corduff another well known local protester was beaten and hospitalised by Shell security guards in the middle of the night while he sat under a truck when Shell restarted work at Glengad in 2009.

If you're looking for examples of vigilantism and private armies in relation to the Corrib Gas Project, I don't think you'll get much better than the above.

I hope the ironies of Judge Groarke's comments and observations are clear.

Lessons in Law.

Judge Groarke delivered two brief but interesting law lectures to the court over the course of the hearings.

He acknowledged the fundamental rights of citizens to gather and to protest at what they perceive as serious injustices, abuses and unfairnesses. He said he appreciated that people were angry and frustrated. But he would not accept the proposition that citizens are entitled to confer upon themselves the right to be the self appointed interpreters or enforcers of the law.

He rejected the notion that a person could offer a defence of 'reasonable excuse' to obstruct what they perceived to be illegal works. The law does provide a defence of 'reasonable excuse' to certain charges but Judge Groarke summed up what the law-makers had in mind by giving the example of someone using their vehicle to block access to an area where there might be an emergency such as a fire. In that case a person would have a 'reasonable excuse' to obstruct oncoming traffic and couldn't be found guilty of a crime. But people are not entitled to commit a crime to prevent a crime, he said.

But if that is so, would Judge Groarke have convicted the black civil rights activist Rosa Parks, for sitting in a bus seat reserved for white people, when racial discrimination was legal in Alabama, USA. Rosa Parks was arrested, charged and convicted of 'disorderly conduct' (similarly to Pat O'Donnell). Unfortunately for Judge Groarke, it looks like he would have had no choice but to enforce the laws of segregation at that time. Unless he could accept that Rosa Parks had a 'reasonable excuse' to disobey the law in refusing to give her seat to a white person.

In my opinion, that's an anomaly that a judge in a court of law should be prepared to have a good look at.

And surely a judge has a discretion to interpret 'reasonable excuse' with regard to the particulars of any case, especially if the circumstances are manifestly unjust and unfair.

No Jury Trials.

What verdict would a jury come to, given the facts?

Unfortunately for Shell to Sea activists, the Gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions make sure that none of these cases ever come before a jury court, for fear that a jury of our peers might see things from our perspective, acknowledge the reasons for our actions, and accept that civil disobedience to the law in these circumstances is excusable.

UnSustainable Development and the Law.

Environmental Destruction and Climate Change are destroying the natural world to the extent that if things don't change fast, the earth will no longer be in a position to sustain human life. Governments, States and legislators are responsible for the policies and laws that allow the national and international explosion of capital development in the pursuit of profit at the expense of local communities and natural environments all over the world.

At the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992, nearly 200 Governments and 2500 Non-Government Organisations took part in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, an unprecedented event in terms of scale and the simplicity of what was agreed.

The world acknowledged that development for economic gain alone was destroying environments and communities to such an extent that nothing less than a radical transformation of attitude and behaviour could ensure the health and life of the planet for the future.

The concept of Sustainable Development was born.

A development cannot be considered to be sustainable unless it satisfies the Three Pillars of Sustainability – Community (Social & Cultural), Environment & Economy.

A system of public participation in decision making was established at the conference in a programme called Local Agenda 21, a blueprint for action to be taken globally, nationally and locally, to ensure that local communities set the agenda for the 21st Century, where the impact of development can only be considered to be sustainable if it is compatible with the social and cultural needs of the community, is environmentally and ecologically safe, and economically sound.

Let's have a quick look at how the Shell Corrib Gas Project measures up to the 3 Pillars of Sustainable Development:

- Social Division & A Community in Crisis, brutalised, bullied, ignored and criminalised by the State for 10 years now.

- Environmental Destruction & Pollution, the killing of local wildlife, contamination of the local drinking water supply, and the destruction of priority habitats and Special Areas of Conservation, facilitated by agencies of the State such as Mayo County Council, the National Parks & Wildlife Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

- The giveaway of our natural gas resource into the sole ownership of the Shell Corrib Gas Partners with no economic benefit for the people of Ireland.

Modern Planning and Development Law, including European Environmental Directives are intended to be based upon the principles of Sustainable Development.

Thankfully, in response to Shell's first Planning Application in 2002, a Senior Planning Inspector, Mr Kevin Moore damned the project in a comprehensive report and concluded that from the perspective of the planning and sustainable development of the area, the Corrib Gas project is 'The Wrong Project in the Wrong Place'.

Regrettably, political interference following that decision ensured subsequent planning approval for the refinery site at Bellanaboy. And it is the experience of the local community that, as a rule, the agencies of the State have paid lip service only to consultation at all stages throughout this development and rejected the principles of Local Agenda 21 out of hand.

Shell to Sea is a campaign which follows the recommendation of a compromise by Mr Kevin Moore, that the refinery be built at sea to prevent the associated negative impact on the local community and their environment. The campaign goes further and also asks that the financial terms which apply to Shell be revisited to benefit the people of Ireland.

Shell to Sea are of the belief that the project in its current form is wrong, unsustainable and unlawful.

Judge Groarke says that citizens do not have the right to usurp the authority of the State to confer on themselves the authority to be the arbiter in these matters, or to decide what's lawful or otherwise. Courts take the view that to allow that would be to allow 'anarchy' to prevail. But what the courts should know is what they perceive as anarchy is the reality that exists within the 'democratic' institutions of the State.

In other words the 'democratic institutions' are a law unto themselves. This should come as no surprise ... this is Ireland.

Exceptional Circumstances.

In the case of Corrib, where the consequences of this sad State are that human rights are being abused, health and safety are disregarded, a pristine environment is being destroyed, and over 400 Billion Euros worth of oil and gas has been handed over to the oil companies in deals originally done by Ray Burke (convicted for corruption) and Bertie Ahern, surely it would be reasonable to excuse anyone who is willing to put their body in the way of this development, in circumstances where all the institutions of the State have failed to address the fact that this is far from being a 'sustainable development', to say the very least, and where any reasonable observer can see that the law is protecting the known predator … Shell.