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Freedom in a ‘changed’ country

Pride was the overriding feeling experienced by the Rossport 5 on their release from Cloverhill prison last Friday.The jubilant men emerged from the High Court in Dublin that afternoon to meet ecstatic family members, friends, neighbours and supporters from all over the country.They did not realise it then but soon discovered that they had been released into a changed country. The stance they had taken in breaching a temporary High Court injunction in order to protect their families and homes had awoken a new sense of solidarity among the people of Ireland.Speaking to the Western People yesterday (Monday, October 3) Micheál O’Sheighn said: “I am as proud as punch. I am like a crow over its newly hatched eggs.”During their imprisonment, Micheál and his four neighbours were aware of the widespread support they were getting. People wrote letters of encouragement to them every day and they were aware of the ongoing protest at the Corrib gas sites.But nothing could have prepared them for the frenzy that greeted them at the High Court on Friday and throughout the weekend:“Five of us went into jail but it is not five now. I am not boasting or bragging but this is a movement now of hundreds of people who will not be ignored.”Vincent McGrath agreed: “Ireland’s notion of community has been resurrected. If we have done that then all of this will have been worthwhile for me.“The concert on Sunday night went very well. There was a great atmosphere. It was great to see the young people there with some hope back in their lives. That is what this is about for me - people like ourselves not being represented by those who should in public life and having to do it themselves.”The men have barely had time to catch their breath since their sudden release from Cloverhill Prison after Shell agreed to lift the temporary injunction it had been granted to prevent people interfering with its work on the Corrib gas development.They were guests on the Late Late Show that Friday night and participated in the Shell to Sea campaign rally in Dublin the next day. Later that evening the men boarded a bus for a victorious journey home, arriving in Rossport in the early hours of Sunday morning. Then it was back on the road to Dublin later that same day to attend a fundraising concert in their benefit at The Ambassador.The Rossport 5 have inadvertently become household names in the last four months. It will take them men some time to get used to their new found celebrity-like status.Micheal is not used to being recognised wherever he goes. People look at him as though he is important. They are appreciative of his actions and want to meet him and shake his hand. He feels that his experiences in recent months have triggered the innate sense of fair play in most Irish people. The public reacted to the imprisonment of the men and that is what got them out of jail.“People were offended when we were put in jail. They were insulted by the political system and its abuse of the privileges that the people had given them,” he remarked.Vincent notes how it had originally been speculated that their opposition was about money: “The way Ireland operated in the past everything could be settled and solved eventually by compensation. This was not about millions. It was about a way of life. My family have been on that farm for six generations. They nursed that land from the bog.”But Micheal, Vincent, Philip, Willie and Brendan had to sacrifice their own family life and liberty in order to bring their situation to national attention. While each of them has testified to the excellent treatment and support they received in jail the experience was nevertheless difficult. Vincent acknowledges that their release from prison was a great relief. The dynamic of being part of a group of five helped the men to endure the situation.They were only permitted one six minute phone call a day. It gave Vincent little time for anything more than a cursory greeting with his wife and daughters. “Our wives and families but up such a brave front. They were the ones that suffered. We could not do anything while we were inside. They were the ones who had to go to the rallies, and meetings and talk to the press,” he said.“When we got out of prison a lot of tears were poured. The lid came off the pot, so to speak. There were a lot of tears.”Maureen McGrath says she is still very angry about what happened to her family. Her anger is directed at Shell but even more so at the Government.But the recent days have seen her anger take a back seat to pride. She is proud and fully supportive of her husband’s stance.“We said it at the beginning. We would have gone to jail ourselves. We have not changed. If it happened again we would do the same thing,” she said.Micheál O’Seighin now wants to see Ireland public representatives stand up and take account for their actions. There must be far more transparency to Governments’ actions.Now the men must prepare for the mediation procedure with Shell. They are resolved in their stance. “We will tell them (Shell) the same thing we told them in 2001. Go back to the drawing board and do it right. We do not want to spend the next five years studying everything all over again but we will if we have to,” Micheal said.In the interim they will do their best to catch up with life on the outside world. They will return to their families and resume their responsibilities but with a new appreciation of being able to do so.The men paid tribute to everyone who assisted and supported them and their families during their imprisonment including Dr Mark Garavan, spokesperson for Shell-to-Sea and Dr Jerry Cowley, T.D. and all those who maintained the solidarity protest at the Corrib development sites.

Posted Date: 
6 October 2005 - 4:24pm