Large numbers gathered yesterday (Saturday July 17) for a rally outside Castlerea prison in County Roscommon to celebrate the release of jailed Shell to Sea and Human Rights activist Pat 'the chief' O'Donnell.
Pat was released having served more than five months of a seven month imposed after he was convicted of 'public order' offences following a cavalcade in support of fellow campaigner Maura Harrington who was on hunger strike at the time. Niall Harnett remains imprisoned in Castlerea on similar charges having served almost three months of his six month sentence so far.
They are campaigning against the building by Shell of an experimental pipeline carrying raw unrefined gas through their community in north Mayo and against the giveaway of our natural resources to Shell, resources believed to be worth at least €500 Billion.
Amongst those there to greet Pat on his release was his wife and children, friends and neighbours from north Mayo, Shell to Sea campaigners and activists from a number of political parties including éirígí.
Speaking at the gates of the prison following his release Pat said that his time in prison had not damaged him or his resolve. He described it as a “learning experience” and said that he was stronger and remained defiant.
In relation to his time in jail Pat said that “the real criminals are walking the streets”. He continued: “By that, I mean the bankers, the developers and the politicians.”
Maura Harrington who has been jailed on five seperate occasions for her role in protests against Shells planned pipeline read out a statement of support from Independent Cllr Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, the Mayor of Roscommon County Council. In his statement to Pat, Cllr Flanagan said: “Your bravery in standing up to tyranny should be commended. It was not people who hid under the beds that won freedom for Ireland. It was people like yourself.”
Cllr Flanagan continued: “It was not crooks like Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke that this state was created for. It was for people like you. Your dedication to what is right is what gives hope that things can change. Without people like Pat O'Donnell this country would be a lesser place. Keep up the fight. Why keep quiet simply because you are bloody well right.”
Amongst those in attendance was éirígí Sligeach activist Gerry Casey. He praised Pat's resiliance and pledged the party's continued support to the Shell to Sea campaign.
He said: “Pats jailing, as with that of Niall Harnett who remains in prison, is a massive miscarraige of justice. Pat's real crime was refusing to be bought off by Shell or intimidated by various arms of the state, including the Gardai and judiciary. He and his colleauges in the Shell to Sea campaign are to be praised for their resilience and defiance despite all the odds being stacked against them. The are an inspiration and their honesty and integrity stands in stark contrast to that of the wealthy business and political elite who have brought the economy of this country to its knees.”
He added: “The lives of the people living along the route of this planned pipeline and the economic future of this island are at stake here. The giveaway of these natural resources to the likes of Shell continues at the same time as the state is implementing savage cuts in our health and education systems, slashing welfare and workers pay and creating hardship and poverty in working class communities throughout this island.
He concluded: "It is long past time that this scandal was ended and the reign of terror imposed by Shell and the state on the residents of the Erris peninsula was ended. Shell must be sent packing, the gas should be nationalised, refined at sea and utilised to eradicate poverty, create jobs and provide efficient health and education systems available to all."