"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.”
"PROTESTERS cannot take the law into their own hands," has been one of the stock responses to the civil disobedience practised by the besieged communities around Shell's inland gas refinery project in north Mayo. One wonders why the same mantra is never directed at Shell and it's private security company, Integrated Risk Management Services (IRMS).
These 2 campaigners were illegally detained by IRMS for about 15 minutes on the public road
The Irish Times recently quoted a Garda Supt denying that roads were being closed to facilitate Shell's truck convoys, while IRMS told the paper it "has no role in the policing of the public roadway as that is a matter for the Gardai". The reality on the roads flatly contradicts these statements. As An Garda Siochana apparently seeks to reduce the huge police overtime bill for Corrib - €14,566,262 for the period from 2006 to December 2011 - gardai have been stepping back and allowing IRMS to operate as a de facto police force on the public road.
An increasingly common sight in the area is that of IRMS staff closing off sections of the road and physically detaining protesters. As civilians, these security guards have no legal entitlement to close roads and manhandle their fellow citizens. These operations - invariably conducted in full view of Gardai - amount to assault, illegal detention and obstruction of traffic. Protesters have posted numerous photos and videos online showing the manoeuvres of this new private army. To date, no IRMS staff member has been charged in relation to this activity. One shudders to think of the tabloid frenzy that would ensue, were protesters to manhandle Shell workers.
Ironically, the blocking of public roads was foremost among the criminal charges faced by 19 protesters who came before Judge Victor Blake at Belmullet District Court in a single week in late February. The special court sitting resulted in 44 convictions, €8,350 in fines and three suspended jail sentences. Rossport carpenter and Shell to Sea spokesperson Terence Conway was handed two three-month jail sentences. He is out on bail, pending an appeal.
Back in 2005, the imprisonment of five of Conway's neighbours - the Rossport Five - was one of the biggest news stories of the year. By contrast, not a single journalist was in court for the recent cases. News coverage amounted to a brief item in the Mayo News and a line at the end of an IT [Irish Times] article a week later. This dramatic shift is, among other things, testament to years of relentless pro-Corrib spin and anti-protester demonisation.
For example, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, commenting on the Corrib Garda overtime bill a few days before these court cases, condemned the "self-indulgent" protesters, "many of whom are not from the area and who engage in a form of protest tourism." This is a convenient diversion from the minister's complicity in handing over law enforcement duties to a private company in order to save overtime payments for gardai.
IRMS assaulting a campaigner on the public road