Mayo farmer Willie Corduff, who was jailed for three months in 2005 over his opposition to Shell’s inland gas refinery at Rossport and high-pressure pipeline through his farm, has been awarded the world’s most prestigious environmental prize.
Awarded annually to six grassroots environmental ‘heroes’, the $125,000 no-strings-attached Goldman prize is the largest of its kind in the world and is often referred to as the Nobel Prize for the environment.
In 2000, Mr Corduff and his wife Mary began rallying their neighbours in Rossport and nearby communities in the County Mayo Gaeltacht to challenge the billion Euro Corrib gas project. They were concerned about the likely health, safety and environmental effects of the proposed refinery and pipeline in what is an area of outstanding natural beauty and in the catchment area of a lake supplying drinking water to 10,000 people.
The residents called for the gas to be processed at sea, as it is at Kinsale and other similar projects around the globe, and in 2005 the campaign adopted the name ‘Shell to Sea’.
In June 2005, Shell Ireland attempted to enter the farms of Corduffs and his neighbours to begin work on a production pipeline to carry untreated, toxic gas through Rossport to the refinery site. When several of the landowners refused Shell access to their property, Corduff and four other men were jailed for 94 days.
Due to the public support generated by the courage of the “Rossport Five”, work on the pipeline and the refinery site was halted. On April 18th, 2007, Justice Mary Laffoy delivered a High Court judgment giving legal vindication to the stance of the Rossport Five and other local landowners, awarding costs against Shell and rendering the original pipeline route formally defunct.
Previous winners of the Goldman Prize include Ken Saro-Wira, who opposed Shell
Reacting to the news, Willie Corduff said: “We didn’t start this campaign to win any prizes, but it shows that someone out there could see that we were doing the right thing. We always knew we were, but this means people elsewhere in the world saw it that way too.
“Seven years is a long time to be fighting something, trying to get people to listen to you,” Corduff said. “I hope more people in Ireland will become aware before it’s too late, before the damage is done. There’s still time to do this the right way. We’ll have more power after this prize; more people in the world will realise what Shell is doing to our community. I hope more people will take on what the Irish government haven’t had the courage to.”
In October 2006, Shell broke the blockades at Bellanaboy and resumed work on the refinery site. In recent months, campaigners have lodged numerous complaints of Garda violence and abuse close to the site. Several protesters have been hospitalised.
“We can’t afford to back down,” says Corduff, the first Irish winner in the 18-year history of the Goldman Prize. “There’s too much at stake. Things are still as bad as they were. I’ll do anything to get this project done the right way.”