Shell protest 'like civil war'

The site of a planned gas terminal in the west of Ireland remains the scene of tense early-morning standoffs between police and environmental protestors.

The protestors, ranging in age from teens to retirement age, say that praying helps them to focus as they begin their daily picket outside a Shell refinery at Bellanaboy, County Mayo.

The protest peaks each day with the arrival around 8 a.m. of a police-protected convoy of jeeps transporting workers, usually to jeers from the crowd.

"Save us from the fires of Shell," says one of the placards carried by the protestors.

The decision by Shell E & P Ireland to recommence work on its controversial terminal on October 3 after a one-year hiatus marked a fresh escalation in its six-year dispute with local residents.

However, the mood in the area, which is very hostile to the heavy-handed actions of the Dublin government, is so bitter it has been likened to Ireland's 1922-1923 Civil War.

At the weekend, more than 300 "Shell to Sea" demonstrators prevented vehicles entering the terminal site. The route was cleared when officers moved in. One person was arrested.

Yesterday the convoy was again stopped, this time at a crossroads a mile from the site entrance. Gardai had to remove more than 100 people staging the sit-down.

Eve Campbell, an archaeologist, runs the campaign's solidarity camp near the terminal site. "We want the terminal to be out at sea so that it doesn't destroy the environment and cause health and safety problems," she said.

"The refinery is being built on unstable blanket bog."

A year ago, five local men, nicknamed the Rossport Five after their village, were released from prison after serving three months over their part in the long-running protest, now into its sixth year.

When Shell - the biggest stakeholder in the gas project that also involves Norway's Statoil and Irish company Marathon - finally agreed to reroute the pipeline away from the houses, many thought a resolution was nigh.

But a core demand of the protestors from the Shell to Sea campaign had not been addressed: that the gas be processed offshore.

An opinion poll carried out recently for state Irish-language channel TG4 showed six out of ten people in Mayo thought that the gas terminal should be located offshore.

According to Shell to Sea spokesman Mark Garavan, "the inland processing of the gas poses an unacceptably high threat to the health and safety of the local population."

Air and water emissions from the gas processing that would be "emitted onto the community" would contain such elements as cadmium and mercury, he says.

Garavan also voiced local suspicions over the intended future use of the site. At 400 acres, he believes Shell intends to transform Bellanaboy into a giant depot for processing gas not only from the Corrib field, but from other future finds on the Atlantic Margin.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News