When the world’s largest pipe-laying ship, the Solitaire, arrived off the coast of county Mayo last week it did so under a massive protective shield provided by the Twenty-Six County state. The Gardaí, the Navy and the Air Corps have all been mobilised to assist Shell lay a seventy-kilometre pipeline from the Corrib Gas field to the Mayo coast. If Shell has its way it is through this pipeline that billions of euros worth of Irish gas will flow – straight into the bank accounts of Shell’s shareholders.
In addition to the three hundred Gardaí, the two Navy ships, the planes and the helicopters the Twenty-Six County government have also brought their ‘justice’ system out to bat for Shell.
In anticipation of the Solitaire’s arrival on Thursday, June 25, Gardaí arrested local fishermen Pat ‘the Chief’ O’Donnell and his son Jonathan while they were laying crab pots in Broadhaven Bay. Both Pat and Johnathan have steadfastly resisted Shell over the last number of years, becoming a constant thorn in the side of the giant energy company.
The Gardaí ludicrously claimed the pair had been ‘loitering’ in the area. While Pat was released later on in the evening, Jonathan was held in Castlerea Prison overnight before being charged with wilful obstruction and loitering. Following his release Pat was admitted to hospital as a result of injured sustained as the Gardaí boarded his boat.
Such pre-emptive arrests have no place in a genuine democracy and only serve to expose the true nature of the southern state. If last week’s arrests were shocking they were not surprising. Last year Pat was detained under similar circumstances as the Solitaire arrived into the area. And so the right to liberty was extinguished.
As the Shell to Sea campaign, the Rossport Solidarity Camp and the local community began to organise direct action opposition to The Solitaire the courts of ‘justice’ were quick to show that they too were on the side of Shell.
On Monday, June 29, at a hearing in Ballina District Court, seven Shell to Sea protestors were remanded into custody by Judge Mary Devins, wife of Fianna Fáil Minister Jimmy Devins. Of the seven the four women were sent to Mountjoy Women’s Prison in Dublin and the three men to Castlerea Prison in Roscommon. A further two protesters were released but ordered to surrender their passports and barred from entering County Mayo.
The seven imprisoned protestors had all been arrested on minor public order offences, and though none of them had any previous convictions, all were denied bail. The judge also denied and deferred requests for free legal aid, stating it “can no longer be dished out like Smarties”. And so was the right to defend oneself was removed.
Fittingly, as Shell and their allies were riding roughshod over the people of Erris Amnesty International published a report on June 30 entitled Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta, in which they refer to the situation in that region as a “human rights tragedy”.
Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights and author of the report, said:
“The people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights undermined by oil companies that their government cannot – or will not – hold to account. They have been systematically denied access to information about how oil exploration and production will affect them, and they are repeatedly denied access to justice.”
The words above could easily apply to the people of Erris in particular and to the people of Ireland in general. By the Dublin government’s own admission there are hundreds of billions of euros worth of oil and gas reserves off the coast of Ireland. The Corrib reserve is the first of these reserves to be brought online. Shell and their friends in the Dublin government understand the importance of winning this first round if they are to successfully plunder the rest of those reserves.
But the people of Ireland are not stupid. With every passing day more and more of them are asking the question ‘What is going on in Mayo?’ And with the answer to that question comes the realisation that there is much more at stake in the Battle for Corrib than just gas. The actions of the Twenty-Six County state over the last week have been nothing short of those of a fascist corporate state.
Over the course of the next twelve to eighteen months Shell will attempt to bring its refinery in Mayo into full production. Before it can achieve that objective the pipeline will need to cross seven kilometres of farmland, bog and commonage. It is on that ground that the next round of the Battle for Corrib will be fought. And when that battle is joined every republican, every socialist, every democrat and every progressive in Ireland have a duty to be there and stand together against Shell and their corrupt allies in the Dublin government.