Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Reality of Shell law in Mayo

At the end of last month, in four days of special sittings at Belmullet court in County Mayo, twenty seven Shell to Sea campaigners faced charges relating to protests against Shell's planned pipeline in Erris last year. Amongst those facing charges were seven activists who were initially denied legal aid and bail by Judge Mary Devins despite being charged with minor public order offences.

Of these cases 25 out of 27 were dismissed or had the charges withdrawn. This followed the judgement by Judge Gerard Haughton who ruled in the case of Eoin Lawless, that he had been illegally detained by Gardai.

While the Gardai would have hoped to secure convictions against these activists and even secure prison sentences for some of them, in many of the cases they knew the charges would never stand up to scrutiny. However, at the time of the initial arrests last summer, their main aim was to disrupt and bring an end to the ongoing and effective protests that were taking place.

They believed these arrests in particular would cause a major disruption of the campaign to stop Shell as these activists had special sea skills including experience of using Kayaks for protests at sea. These skills made them extremely valuable assets for the campaign as the Solitaire pipe-laying ship attempted to carry out its work in Broadhaven Bay last summer. Likewise, these very skills made them targets for special attention by Shell and the Gardai who decided they needed to take these activists out of circulation and prevent them from continuing their invaluable protest activities.

Laying charges, bogus as they were, against these activists also suited the agenda of Shell and the Gardai as they attempted to portray these campaigners in the media (a largely compliant media it must be added) and, indeed the entire community opposed to Shell, as criminals.

These Garda tactics are not new however. Regularly, peaceful protests have been disrupted by the arrests of demonstrators, who subsequently are released without charge or charged with minor public order offences. We have seen the arrest and jailing of Maura Harrington and other key activists at times which the Gardai and Shell viewed as crucial times in their project.

Indeed, local fisherman and prominent Shell to Sea campaigner Pat O'Donnell is currently serving a seven month sentence in Castlerea prison. His alleged 'crimes' were public order offences. His real 'crimes' was his ongoing defiance in the face of a concerted campaign of intimidation against himself and others opposed to Shell's pipeline and the give-away of our natural resources. Removing Pat O'Donnell from Broadhaven bay and placing him in prison was once again viewed by all the various arms of the state as essential to protect their interests and the interests of Shell at this time.

The Gardai have shown themselves over and over to be nothing more than Shell's police force, enforcing Shell's law, in north Mayo. They have deliberately broken their own laws, in order to assist Shell in their activities. They have continually attempted to intimidate, bully and assault demonstrators and to suppress all forms of peaceful, legitimate protest by the local community in Erris.

The reality is that the 26 county state has abandoned its own citizens in north Mayo and has colluded at every level, political, policing and judicial, in denying them their basic civil and human rights. All of the empty rhetoric about citizens rights is cast aside once the state believes that the status quo and the interests, financial and ideological, of the wealthy elite are somehow threatened.

The reality is that, contrary to what they and their political masters claim, the Gardai and the judiciary are not there to protect the interests of the citizens of this country. Their job is to protect the interest of this state and the wealthy political and business elite who control it, which is a completely different thing from the interests of its citizens.

Countless campaigners have been harassed, assaulted and arbitarily arrested. Some have been released without charge, others charged unjustly with bogus offences and even jailed. Some have had their fishing boats impounded by Gardai. Pat O'Donnell even had his boat boarded by armed and masked thugs who proceeded to sink his boat, with Pat and his crew being left to fend for themselves and had to be rescued from the sea. Yet not one member of the Gardai or of Shell's private security company, Irish Risk Management Services (IRMS) have faced charges for their crimes and illegal activities.

Shell, a multi-national corporation with an appalling environmental and human rights record worldwide, have regularly broken the laws of this state. They have illegally entered private property. They have broken planning and environmental laws. Their security staff have assaulted protesters. Yet Shell have faced no sanction and have been assisted in breaking the law at every turn by all arms of the state.

There is no justification for piping highly dangerous raw untreated gas ashore to an inland refinery through a populated area that would be incinerated in the event of an accident. Best International practice is that this gas be refined as sea and made safe before been brought ashore.

This appalling threat to the lives of an entire community is being imposed solely in order to decrease Shell's costs and maximise profits for their shareholders and companies who hold shares in Shell, a company that even with the economic downturn worldwide made profits in 2009 of almost $10 billion.

Amongst those with a financial stake in Shell are a number of TD's in Leinster House, including Sligo/north Leitrim TD Jimmy Devins, whose wife Judge Mary Devins has shown publicly a naked hostility towards the Shell to Sea Campaign and who has played a central role in Shell's efforts in attempting to demonise and criminalise campaigners and to take key activists such as Maura Harrington off the streets at crucial times.

However, also at stake here is another major issue that is vital to the future of this country and future generations. That is the shameful giveaway of these valuable natural resources to private multi-national companies such as Shell, with no benefit forthcoming for the people of this island. There are hundreds of thousands of euro's worth of gas and oil lying under the sea bed off our coast that, instead of being used to make profits for Shell, could be used to tackle the current economic recession which has resulted in mass unemployment and ever increasing levels of poverty.

The wealth resulting from these oil and gas finds could be used to create jobs, to create efficient public services such as health and education, to reverse the savage cutbacks in pay and social welfare, to end the scandal of poverty in modern Ireland and to ensure a brighter and more equitable future for our children and grand-children.

The Fianna Fáil led administration in Leinster House say there is no alternative to their current economic strategy of pumping tens of billions of euro's into bailing out the banks, cutting essential public services and cutting social welfare and workers pay. That is a blatant lie.

There is a clear alternative and it is one that does not require the targetting of the weak and vulnerable in our society. They have the power to take back into public ownership the Corrib gas and all of our other natural resources. All that is lacking is the political will to do so.

So if they are unwilling to do so, in the weeks and months ahead, we must all intensify our efforts to ensure that Shell do not get to complete their pipeline. We must all intensify our efforts to ensure that this gas and oil is nationalised and utilised for the benefit of all the people on this island and refined at sea where it is of no threat to the local community in Erris or elsewhere.

Shell and their corrupt political allies in Leinster House must be defeated. The ramifications of who wins this struggle will be felt way beyond the Erris peninsula. This is a battle we must win, not just for the people of Erris, but for the future of our entire island and future generations. We owe it to them. Let us now make sure we dont disappoint them.

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