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Face off in Pollathomais: a report on the last two days events

mayo | environment | feature Tuesday June 12, 2007 22:42 by Bob


Gardaí force digger through to pier

Yesterday afternoon Gardai violently removed protesters attempting to stop the illegal instalment of a Shell portacabin on the land of publican Paddy McGrath near Pollathomais, Co Mayo (see initial newswire report of the assault). This afternoon a letter from Mr McGrath's solicitors giving persons responsible for the cabin until 2pm to move it, advising that the failure to do so would result in an injunction. A full report on events of the last two days follows.
At approximately three o clock yesterday afternoon, an excavator and a jeep towing a metal portacabin arrived at McGrath’s pub Pollathomais accompanied by a number of Gardai and attempted to enter onto land belonging to the pub owners. They told Mr McGrath they were going to place the portacabin down by the pier on what is his land, accessing through a private roadway. No prior contact had been made with the landowners about this. It was put to Mr McGrath as a statement rather than a request and when he asked who wanted it installed and why he received no answer.
They insisted that the council had given permission for the portacabin to be installed and that the pier was public facility, ignoring the fact that they were trying to move it through Mr McGrath’s land and intended to place it on his land. As far as Mr McGrath was concerned, he was perfectly within his legal rights to refuse access and received legal advice to that effect. A crowd of Shell to Sea campaigners, friends and neighbours began to gather, as did an ever increasing number of Guards and Garda vehicles. Before long a crowd of around fifty to sixty locals had gathered along with perhaps thirty to forty Gardai in a paddy wagons, jeeps and cars. At about five o clock, two Garda boats and another vessel came up Sruthwaddacon estuary and stopped at Pollathomais pier. A vehicle belonging to Erris Shell to Sea-er Maura Harrington, parked near the gate and in front of the digger, was towed recklessly and without consent. Members of the Gardai cut the bolt which Mr McGrath had placed on his gateway through which the police intended to access the pier. At this point it became clear that they were intending to force their way through without the consent of the landowners or members of the community present and some of the crowd climbed on top of the JCB and others sat in the bucket. A large portion of the crowd had gathered inside the gate and they stepped up to hold it shut at this point. The protesters occupying the digger were removed by police who proceeded to form a scrum to force the gate open, when this proved too difficult, Supt Gannon waved the driver of the JCB forward and instructed him to use the machine to force the gate open. This incredibly dangerous and reckless manoeuvre caused the crowd to be trapped between the gate and a high embankment with no room to escape.

Paddy McGrath informs the Guards they are attempting to enter private property

Even after forcing the gate open the protestors showed spirited resistance, one managing to climb into the bucket of the digger and another onto the portacabin being pulled by the jeep; the drivers continued down the roadway regardless. Others attempted to block the vehicles by lying down in front of them or climbing on top of them. The policing of the situation was vigorous even by the standards Shell to Sea protestors have unfortunately become accustomed to, with many members of the crowd suffering injuries. Rossport resident John Monahan was arrested for an alleged assault on a Guard whom he had attempted to save from falling down an embankment, who promptly began punching Mr Monaghan in the face. This same policeman was earlier witnessed behaving in a very aggressive manner with other protesters. Eventually the portacabin was placed beside the pier at the bottom of the McGrath's roadway. A large portion of the crowd remained throughout the evening as did a heavy Garda presence. It is interesting to note the continuing reluctance of the Gardai to arrest anyone apart from certain individuals who they very obviously target for their perceived strategic value to the campaign.
This morning, from about six o clock onwards a crowd began to reappear at the gate. The police presence then became more visible, with one group of Guards blocking the McGrath's roadway and preventing people from walking it; a curious practise seeing as the previous day they had argued that it was a public right of way and they therefore had the right to access it. Among those barred was a woman looking for a pair of glasses which had been lost the day before. This did not stop people from using the real right of way which is located a little closer to the pub to get to the pier. A van driven by one of the Marine Gardai attempted to drive down onto the pier and was blocked by a crowd. Before the Guards could resume the violence of the previous day, Mr McGrath walked down to the pier and attached a solicitors letter to the portacabin to the effect that it was on his land illegally and if it were not removed before two o clock that day an injunction would be sought to remove it. From this point on the Garda presence seemed to decrease, with the unmarked van pulling off after approximately an hour. Shell to Sea campaigners have been maintaining a presence at the site of these events all through the day. The threat of legal action prompted Shell to action and later in the evening Shell representative John Cronin visited the McGraths promising that the illegal cabin would be moved by the morning.

Police boats approach the pier near Pollathomais

The events of the past forty eight hours have been yet another example of how hollow talk of “community consultation” rings in relation to the Corrib gas project. There was certainly no consultation with the landowners, nor were they even done the common courtesy of being asked if their land could be accessed or even told who it was that the portacabin facility was to be installed for. Nor was there any consultation with the people in the Pollathomais area or the wider community. Once again, the Erris residents are being railroaded and trampled upon without explanation or apology. Unfortunately, the metaphorical trampling of their rights is now accompanied by the physical trampling of their bodies by a police force who seem to be embracing their role as a strongarm gang for corporate interests with more and more relish.
It is expected that many of those who came out to support their neighbours today and yesterday will be attending the RPS meeting tonight in Belmullet, where possible new pipeline routes will be “revealed“. Although the purpose of the portacabin at Pollathomais pier is still a mystery, it is widely believed that it is connected to attempts to survey the Pollathomais area for suitability as a pipeline route.

A digger under Garda escourt approaches the locked gates on Monday evening.
Protesters sit in the digger bucket.

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more pics.
by Bob Tue Jun 12, 2007 21:04
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Police use bolt cutters to open the gate.
The gates are forced open.
Protesters climb on the digger.
Gardai attempt to remove protesters from the digger.
The digger is driven through the crowd.

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by Bob Tue Jun 12, 2007 21:10
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Police try to pull Willie Corduff off the digger.
The digger hoists the illegal portacabin into place.
Gardai guard the digger
Banner on the pier tonight.
Solicitors letter posted on the illegal cabin.
Committing criminal damage?

Posted Date: 
19 June 2007 - 7:36pm