A series of protests have been organised after five men were jailed at the insistence of the multinational Shell company over their opposition to a gas pipeline being built across their lands in County Mayo.
All five of the protesting men were sent to prison after refusing to guarantee to the Dublin High Court that they would facilitate the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline.
A consortium of energy companies, including Marathon and the Norwegian Statoil, is to construct an onshore gas refinery in forested bogland nine kilometres from the sea. An environmentally protected lakeland and beach area is threatened by the construction, while local residents fear the untested technology.
It has emerged that the only review of Shell’s risk analysis was conducted by a company half-owned by Shell. Campaigners have called for an independent review.
At a demonstration in Castlebar, County Mayo on Sunday, thousands called for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and other senior government ministers to resign following the jailing of the five men.
Hundreds gathered in protest at the proposed terminal site at Bellanaboy in north Mayo on Monday, while others went to the Galway office of Minister of State Frank Fahey.
Mr Fahey, as former Marine Minister, approved of the pipeline and the compulsory acquisition of lands by the oil companies along the route.
The protesting men are farmers Willie Corduff, Philip McGrath and Brendan Philbin, and retired schoolteachers Vincent McGrath and Michael O’Suighin.
Dr Jerry Cowley, an Independent TD, said: “I think the time has come for Minister Fahey just to bow out now because those people are in jail because of all that has happened by successive ministers.
“I just don’t think it is acceptable that those people can languish in jail while this goes on, while Shell bulldozes its way over the small people,” he said.
Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris slammed the decision to lock up the five men.
“I condemn this decision in the strongest possible terms. These men have legitimate concerns regarding the threat to safety that this pipeline may pose,” said Ferris.
Party president Gerry Adams was denied access to visit the five men in Cloverhill prison in Dublin on Saturday.
Mr. Adams described the jailings as “totally wrong”.
He called for the men to be released immediately and the injunctions against others involved to be lifted.
“These men and their families and neighbours believe that the pipeline is unsafe as the pressure of gas is far too high for its proximity to homes. This view is supported by many people.
“Pending a full enquiry into all aspects of the project; from the initial deal made under the terms agreed by corrupt former Minister Burke, to the ongoing safety concerns, all work should be halted.
“We are also calling for the state to reclaim the Irish peoples stake in our natural resources and institute a tax and royalties scheme that ensures that the Irish people benefit from the gas.
“It is a ludicrous situation that Corrib gas is completely under the control of a company that can write off all its tax, pays no royalties and sells the gas back to the Irish state at market value. It is unprecedented in any other country.”
Micheal O Seighin’s daughter Brid Ni Sheighin said her father’s spirits remained high and the men had no intention of backing down.
“These men feel they have to protect their families and that is why they have taken this stand,” she said.
Vincent McGrath’s daughter Maire said opposition to the pipeline would continue.
“Shell will find that they are going to have to deal with these men’s wives and children next. There is no way we are going to let them into the area,” she said.