Mayo residents were shocked and angered this week after the 26 County state forcibly cleared sit-down protesters to allow construction workers enter the Corrib gas terminal site.
Local residents remain opposed to the development, which they say endangers their community by exposing it to the threat of pollution and a large-scale gas explosion.
Despite strong public opposition, Shell Oil and its corporate partners remain intent on constructing a high pressure underground pipeline for unrefined gas from the offshore Corrib gas field.
Consultation with landowners on a modified pipeline route would begin “shortly”, according to a company spokesman.
The Shell to Sea campaign, which has organised protests against the plans, compared the Garda police operation initiated early Tuesday as “martial law”. It said it would maintain its peaceful protest.
Up to 170 gardai were initially involved when all access roads to the site as Bellanaboy were closed. A hundred members of the community who had already started to gather had their vehicles removed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Shortly before 7am, Gardai began lifting and removing the protestors. Several of the five men jailed last year for 94 days over their objections to the pipeline were lifted off the road with their spouses.
There were jeers and shouts as the first construction vehicles then drove through the gates.
Dr Cowley described the events as “an abuse of Garda time and resources”.
Mayo Independent TD Dr Jerry Cowley, who lodged a complaint over a delay in giving him medical access to a protester, said he had been “shocked to see how the State could be used to quash a peaceful demonstration”.
A young woman who was caught in a crush between two gardai required medical attention, but Dr Cowley was hindered in his attempts to treat her.
“Shell is talking about the right of its contractors to go to work, but the right of people in this area to associate peacefully, to travel to their own work and homes, and my rights as a public representative and as a medical doctor were breached here today,” Dr Cowley said.
“I think we’ve entered a new phase of irresponsibility and bullying by the State,” he added.
Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris TD has condemned the decision by the Department of Justice to order the Gardai to break up the picket.
The party’s spokesperson on natural resources also demanded to know why the Dublin government was so anxious to enforce the wishes of Shell in relation to the Corrib gas development.
Martin Ferris said: “It is ironic that on the day that the Dail will question the Taoiseach on his personal finances, that a Fianna Fail Government is seen to be clearly enforcing the wishes of a multi-national consortium against the will of the local people and against the best interests of the Irish people as a whole.
“Bertie Ahern’s personal finances are small beer compared to the huge scandal of the giving away of our gas to companies that pay almost nothing in return in the way of tax or royalties.
“The question has often been posed as to why this was done and the fact that there are interests terrified of revealing the terms of the rotten deal made raises suspicions of the nature of the relationship between Fianna Fail and the oil companies.
“On the day that the Gardai are forcing protestors off the road in Mayo the question needs to be posed: Why is the Fianna Fail piper so willing to do their bidding?.”
More than a hundred protesters are currently continuing their picket at the site.