Up to one hundred protesters breached the perimeter of the Shell site in Erris, County Mayo as part of a planned ‘day of action’ last weekend against plans for a high-pressure gas pipeline and refinery.
More than two hundred people turned out to protest at both the ‘giveaway’ of Ireland’s gas reserves and safety aspects of the Shell project.
Amid a major security operation by the Garda police, the day began with sit-down protest held across the main entrance to the Shell site. As it became apparent that another entrance was being used by the contractors a number of activists decided to enter the site in a non-violent ‘direct action’ aimed at shutting down construction of the gas refinery.
Shell’s private security personnel, who initially attempted to violently prevent the mass entrance onto the site, were soon forced to beat a retreat as first individuals and then tens and ultimately scores of protesters scrambled over the front gates.
By the time Garda reinforcements started to arrive, including members of the infamous ‘Public Order Unit’, more then one hundred protesters were across not only the front gates but also the inner security fence.
As the numbers of Gardai on site began to grow so too did the levels of aggression of the so-called ‘guardians of the peace’. Following a number of incidents in which the Gardai attacked protesters it was decided by the activists to regroup and move into view of the main ‘oil road’ where supporters and television crews were located.
This group, of up to one hundred people linking arms and moving slowly and peacefully back towards the main entrance, was repeatedly pushed, kicked and punched by dozens of Gardai.
Once the main road was again visible another ‘sit down’ protest began. Within ten minutes the Gardai were again attacked protesters, dragging people along the concrete by the legs, arms, clothes or, in at least one case, the hair.
Through simple brute force the site was eventually cleared, but not before five people were arrested and many others were injured.
Sinn Féin condemned “heavy handed tactics” by Gardai during the peaceful protest. “It was both unacceptable and unnecessary,” said Sinn Féin Dun Laoghaire representative Eoin O Broin.
Brian Leeson of republican activist group eirigi commended the courage of those who took part in the protest.
“While Bertie Ahern today squirmed in the Mahon Tribunal in Dublin his police were attacking peaceful protesters in Mayo,” he said.
“Any one of those people who today risked arrest or injury in defence of the rights of the people of Ireland demonstrated more integrity in two hours than Ahern and his Fianna Fail cronies have demonstrated in their lifetimes.
“The struggle in Erris is far from over. I look forward to the next ‘Day of Action’ when hopefully many more people will join us in putting an end to Shell’s operation in Ireland.”
* Hundreds of protesters marched to Government Buildings in Dublin on Saturday to call on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to intervene and halt work on the M3 motorway through Tara, the legendary Irish capital and a site of renowned archaeological importance.
The protest followed the release of a preliminary report from the European Parliament’s petitions committee, which criticised the routing of the motorway.
The document said the committee’s delegation was “perplexed by the choice of route and by the damage done to the integrity of the many sites in the Tara area and the Gabhra valley”.
Meanwhile, it was announced that scores of harpers plan to gather outside the Dublin parliament this Saturday to protest over the planned route of the M3.
Harper events will also take place on Saturday in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles outside Irish Consulates. A series of Tara-related events are also being organised across Ireland for the following weekend.