Despite an establishment and media onslaught a Mayo community still stands in the way of Shell’s Corrib Gas pipeline, writes Caoimhe Kerins
The campaign against Shell’s inland refinery and high-pressure gas pipeline near Rossport in Co Mayo has seen a small rural community thrown into the frontline of those supporting responsible economic development versus multinational exploitation.
February of this year saw yet another of the local campaign’s leaders imprisoned with fisherman Pat O’Donnell sentenced to seven months on the relatively minor charges of “breach of the peace” and “obstructing a Garda”.
Dozens of others have also come before the courts in recent months for opposing the Shell project and many have received fines, driving bans or shorter custodial sentences.
Shell to Sea spokesperson Terence Conway, a local farmer, said, ‘The sentences are totally disproportionate to any alleged law-breaking.
Pat O’Donnell has been a constant thorn in Shell’s side as he has refused to be bought off, and has upheld his legal and traditional right to fish in Broadhaven Bay.”
The recent jailings are just another sad chapter in an over decade long struggle which has seen the creeping criminalization of a proud community in the interests of profit.
However, as in the past the heavy handed establishment approach has back fired by reinvigorating the community’s support for the Shell to Sea campaign.
Gas was discovered in the Corrib field, 80km west of Co Mayo, in 1996. An experimental, cost-saving method for bringing this gas ashore was proposed: instead of processing gas at sea, as is standard practice worldwide, the plan was to lay an extremely high-pressure pipeline to carry raw, odourless gas through the community of Rossport to an inland refinery.
This would save Shell hundreds of millions in costs while placing local homes within a 200 metre ‘kill zone’ in the case of a catastrophic pipe line explosion.
Last June Pat O’Donnell’s fishing boat was sunk in mysterious circumstances just days before an off shore pipe-laying stage of the project was to begin. Despite O’Donnell and his crew’s statements that armed men boarded the vessel and scuttled it no arrests have been made.
The men’s call for an independent investigation has also fell on deaf ears. In the following weeks 300 Gardai were deployed, alongside 200 IRMS private security staff, 2 Irish Navy gunboats and an Air Force plane, to suppress resistance to the pipe-laying.
Last November, An Bord Pleanála vindicated the stance of the local community when it found that up to half of Shell’s proposed onshore pipeline route was ‘unacceptable’ on safety grounds.
Campaigning has intensified following the jailing of Pat O’Donnell. Protests have taken place across the country in support of Pat and his family and local Shell to Sea groups have stepped up their campaigns with distribution of 120,000 copies of a leaflet titled ‘Someday Independent’, describing the background to the campaign.