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Western People Wed. 21st Feb. 2007

By: Daniel Hickey THE ‘Day of Solidarity’ at Bellanaboy passed off peacefully on Friday morning despite an estimated 150 people occupied the site of the gas terminal, stopping the work there. This was the first time such action has been taken. ‘Unprecedented,’ said one protester.
After forty-five minutes on-site, the protestors walked out the main entrance, escorted by about 200 gardai. They were met at the gates by another group of protestors amid loud cheering, singing and applause.
The protest began earlier that morning when approximately 450 people gathered at Glenamoy bridge and walked the two miles to the site entrance. Shell staff had been escorted to work an hour earlier than normal, at 6.30am.
Conscious of the wielded batons and injuries of November last, the organisers of the protest had yellow-jacketed stewards lined along the route, keeping the march to one side of the road.
“Keep in to the left,” shouted a steward.
“Don’t worry, there’s no right-wingers here,” came the response from within the line of protestors.
A van at the head of the crowd was fitted out with speakers which played music, and some of the protestors carried barrels, buckets and tins which they used as drums.
Addressing the crowd, Cllr. Gerry Murray said: “What we have here today is political and corporate policing. They [the Gardai] are here to put the interests of the corporate good above the common good. These people are here to carry out a public relations exercise on behalf of Shell and the Norwegian government. The government has explicitly requested the gardai to arrest nobody, charge nobody - that may spoil the corporate image of Shell. But they have been told to use brute force against the people of this county. Here we have the spectacle of a pipeline carrying a multi-billion euro resource to fund the infrastructure of the Norwegian government, to fund the health service of the Norwegian government, to provide better roads, better schools, better hospitals, while we, the people of Mayo, are living with third world infrastructure.”
Vincent McGrath, of the Rossport Five, said: “I’d like to compliment you all on your discipline, your dignity and the way you conducted yourselves.”
But there was discontent among a small number regarding the nature of the protest. “There’s a fine line between passing off peacefully and nothing actually happening,” said one. What was implied was not “throwing stones” but some form of “direct action like a sit-down protest”.
But “something very significant happened,” said Mary Corduff, spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign. “About 500 people gathered at seven o’clock in the morning, I think that’s very significant.”
Along the road back toward Glen-amoy bridge, upward of 150 people broke off the main group, taking a left up the road toward Pollathomas. It was from that road they walked through a field, following the route of the proposed pipeline, and onto the site.
Shell E&P spokesman John Egan branded the group “trespassers”, and, although the company issued a statement in which it said the breach was “not peaceful” and that the protestors “vandalised tools and equipment on the site and subjected construction workers to extreme verbal abuse and personal intimidation”, this reporter neither saw nor heard any evidence to back up such claims.
“If they’re saying stuff was damaged, why wasn’t anybody arrested?’” said Mary Corduff. The Shell to Sea campaign has dissociated itself from the security breach. “It was not condoned,” said Corduff. It has also been condemned by Dr. Jerry Cowley TD who said it was “very disappointing”.
There was only one injury. Dubliner Tadhg McGrath had his wrist broken while on site. He was standing at the door of the on-site canteen when a number of the workers jostled him, and shut the door on his arm.
“I’m surprised the workers are taking it so personally,” he added, “We have nothing against the work-ers themselves.”
Later that day, at the PD conference, party leader Michael McDowell made reference to the strategic importance of developing the Corrib gas field, and criticised those political parties who are supporting the Shell to Sea campaign.
Spokesman for the campaign, Dr Mark Garavan, issued a statement, saying: “Mr Mc Dowell is simply wrong on a number of grounds. First, opposition to the Corrib gas development is not centred on stopping the development of gas but on the specific processing proposal being made by Shell. Second, no strategic importance to do with the project has ever been demonstrated.’

Posted Date: 
21 February 2007 - 6:36pm