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Shell to Sea campaigners may face imprisonment despite vindication

By: 
Shelver - Rossport Solidarity Camp

Preview of appeals due in Castlebar on the 9th Feb 2010.

Judge Rory MacCabe is due to hear 14 Shell to Sea related cases scheduled for next Tuesdays sitting of Castlebar circuit court. The stakes are high: Five people are appealing prison sentences imposed last year, and may go directly to jail if they lose their appeals.

Despite the vindication of the campaign by An Bord Pleanála - who in November rejected over half of Shell's latest on-shore pipeline route on safety grounds – those who have rightly campaigned against the project over the years continue to be dragged before the courts, and may well be unjustly imprisoned after Tuesday’s court in Castlebar.

Shell, along with the Government, Gardaí and judiciary would like the event to pass silently, people to go to prison quietly and serve as an example of what can happen if you stand up for your rights.

This is a summary of the cases to be heard, as a reminder of how unjust the situation in Mayo still is.

Niall Harnett

Niall Harnett is appealing 2 convictions.
The first is for failing to comply with the direction of a Garda and obstruction of the Shell gates at Glengad, for which he received a 4 month prison sentence in July of last year. During the same sitting he was convicted of a Section 2 assault of a Garda during a Shell to Sea reclaim the beach protest in 2008. Video footage was shown in court which undermined the Garda’s own testimony of events raised serious questions about the Garda’s allegation of assault. Despite this Niall received a further four month sentence, making 8 months in all.
Click here for the court article and video of the “assault”: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/93381

Maura Harrington
Maura Harrington will appeal 5 convictions.
Last September Judge Mary Devins sentenced Ms Harrington to 3 months in jail for allegedly assaulting an employee of IRMS, and 3 months for trespassing in a farmyard close to the landfall site in Glengad on June 19 2008. Ms Harrington was also fined a total of €1000. This incident occurred shortly after Shell began drafting in security into the area to film local people (it hadn't been discovered they were working for IRMS at that stage).

Ms Harrington will also appeal a 2 year driving ban relating to a dangerous driving charge which involved an IRMS minibus.

In December last year Judge Gerard Haughton found Maura Harrington guilty of cutting nets and causing damage of €160 on Good Friday, 10th April 09. The fact that the nets were illegally preventing sandmartins (a protected species) from nesting in the cliffs at Glengad wasn't reasonable enough for the judge.

You can read an account of the day here http://www.indymedia.ie/article/91889

In the Dáil, Michael D. Higgins recently had this to say on the subject of the sandmartins:
"I would like to make a statement which anyone can refute if they wish. In the Rossport case, which I mentioned earlier, the EU birds directive has been flagrantly and publicly broken. There has been interference with special areas of conservation. Work has taken place in the full knowledge that the relevant area was protected and without any consequences being invoked. I refer again to the notion that some projects are too big for public accountability and transparency in planning. I am not making accusations that I cannot support. I am certainly not attacking planners because I am in favour of planning. It is hypocrisy of the first rank for a Minister with responsibility for the environment to ask local authority planning sections to come up with compliance, while not providing those sections with the staff to enable them to do so."

Ms Harrington was initially sentenced to a 9 month sentence suspended for 2 years. However Ms Harrington refused to sign the bond and so is appealing a jail sentence of 9 months.

Maura Harrington will also appeal a 4 month prison sentence for a conviction of obstruction and failure to comply with the directions of a Garda at the Shell landfall compound gates in August 2008.

In total Maura is appealing 19 months in prison and a 2 year driving ban.

Pat O’ Donnell, Martin McDonnell, Gary Bohan, Kevin Moran & Tony King
On the 16th of December last year, Pat O Donnell, Martin McDonnell and Gary Bohan were each given three sentences of 6 months in prison for three charges, to be served concurrently. The charges arose from when a Garda car gate crashed a car rally in support of Maura Harrington when she was on hunger strike in 2008. The 6 month sentences were imposed after the 3 men refused to consent to doing community service. They were then sent to Castlerea prison despite the fact that they had the money for bail all prepared. Since then no justification has been offered as to why they were forced to spend the night in Castlerea prison. It was about 6pm on Thursday 17th when they were released.
Kevin Moran and Tony King are appealing fines from convictions from the same event.

Pat O Donnell will also be appealing a 2 month sentence suspended for 6 months last December after Judge Haughton found him guilty of a Section 6 breach of the peace for using threatening and abusive behaviour towards Sgt O’ Malley. He was convicted despite Garda evidence being contradicted by CCTV footage.

Both Pat and Martin were victims of sabotage last year, when masked men boarded and sank their boat in the dead of night. Read the account here: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/92657

Terrence Conway
Terence Conway is appealing two convictions.
The first one involved using threatening and abusive language towards Sgt Sean Cunnane on the 17th September 08 outside the Shell offices in Belmullet. Even though it was absolutely clear that the incident had been caused by Sgt. Cunnane, Judge Haughton ruled that because a group of protesters had gathered around Mr Conway after Sgt Cunnane came up to him that a breach of the peace could have occurred. He therefore found Terence Conway guilty and fined him 200 euro. It is worth nothing that Sgt Cunnane is the Garda who in 2007 caused criminal damage by cutting the chain around the gates down to Pullathomas Pier, after which Gardaí and Shell trespassed on private land and caused over 20 injuries forcing their way down to the pier.

In a second case involving Terence Conway, he was found guilty last December of leaving the scene of an accident and banned for driving for 4 years. In his judgement the Judge found that Terence Conway didn't stay at the gates for a sufficient time after the incident even though all the IRMS witnesses stated that Terence Conway had got out of his car after the incident and stayed around for about 5 minutes It is worth noting that one of the IRMS security guards who made a statement regarding the incident but not surprisingly wasn't there to give evidence was one Tibor Revez, who was one of the IRMS guards who was out in Bolivia last autumn, allegedly participating in a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales and forment civil war in that country. He was mentioned in the recent Prime-Time into the investigation into Michael Dwyer’s death in Bolivia.

Wednesday 10th February 2010 Belmullet District Court.
Six locals who have been singled out for the alleged “theft” of the Shell nets at Glengad in 2009 have their cases up for mention in Belmullet on Wednesday. The reality is that the whole community united against Shell to send a message after the savage beating of Willie Corduff, for which no one was ever prosecuted.

Taking down the nets: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/92071
The beating of Willie Corduff: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/92036

One campaigner is up for mention for sitting on a tripod on Glengad beach last year. The charge is public order section 8. He was allegedly a danger to himself and others.

Two more campaigners are up for mention for public order section 9 obstruction charges of vehicles. The vehicles in question were wide load flat bed trucks that created the obstructions in the first place. The trucks were also carrying material for the Glengad compound, which was used to pull in the offshore pipeline and lay what An Bord Planeála now consider to be 90meters of illegal onshore pipeline.

Watch this space for proceedings from court. In the meantime let’s do what we can to show our solidarity with our friends.