A report by eirigi activists on the latest action against the development of a dangerous onshore gas refinery in County Mayo.
Major work at Shell’s proposed county Mayo refinery was again halted earlier this month as the Erris community and Shell to Sea activists from across the country staged another successful day of action.
Despite the best efforts of Gardai, who were, at times, almost farcically incompetent, the hundreds of natural resources activists who had travelled from every province in the country held their ground.
As a result, all supplies to Shell’s building supplies had to be cancelled for the day to the obvious delight of local people.
The only industrial vehicle that went through Bellanaboy on November 9 took over an hour to pass along a 500-yard stretch of road as activists deployed sit-down protest tactics to ensure it didn’t enter the gates of the refinery.
As ever, the Gardai intervened with fists and boots in an attempt to clear the road, but every time they had laboriously cleared one group of protestors another emerged directly behind.
Among the sit-down protestors were two men with vast amounts of experience in defending the interests of their community.
Brendan MacCionnaith from the Garvaghy Road in Portadown and Gerard Rice from the Lower Ormeau Road area of Belfast have played leading roles in opposing sectarian marches through vulnerable nationalist communities in the Six Counties.
They attended yesterday’s day of action in an expression of solidarity with another community that finds itself under siege. In 1997, a number of Mayo people travelled to the Garvaghy Road to help the nationalist people of Portadown, that gesture of common humanity was yesterday returned.
However, the successful exercise in civil disobedience came at a price.
Of the three arrests and one serious injury, two eirigi members and one supporter were targeted by Gardai.
Co. Monaghan man and eirigi supporter Gary Ronaghan was forced by two encroaching groups of Gardai up against the side of the one lorry that went down the road at Bellanaboy yesterday. When Gary fell under Garda pressure the articulated vehicle went over his foot, leaving him in excruciating pain.
The Monaghan republican was transported to hospital to be assessed and later released. He said:
“The Garda operation today was an absolute shambles. They were completely unaware as to how to achieve their stated objectives for the day.
“When they gained control over small groups of protestors, they were pushed in one direction and then another, almost simultaneously, by different Gardai. In my case this incompetence could have resulted in very serious injury.”
Several other activists also received minor injuries in Garda assaults which did not require hospital treatment. Several female protestors were dragged from the road by the hair and one of the most vicious Gardai at the scene was suspected to the heavily under the influence of alcohol.
In addition, two eirigi members, Galway based Dominic McGlinchey and Rab Jackson from Belfast, were arrested at Bellanaboy and charged with obstruction.
Another natural resource activist from Cork was also charged with obstruction.
After facing a court in the Mayo town of Swinford they were released on bail.
While condemning the Garda actions, eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson said it was clear they were fighting a losing a battle on behalf of Shell.
“The contempt that the Gardai displayed today for the citizens at Bellanaboy, coupled with their sheer incompetence, could have resulted in very serious injuries among peaceful protestors.
“As it is, one of our supporters is recovering after being run over by an articulated lorry and two of our members have been arrested and charged for protesting on a public road.
“However, as on previous occasions, Shell to Sea and the people of Erris have achieved their stated objectives for the day.
“More tax-payers money was wasted in drafting hundreds of Gardai, including the notorious Public Order Unit, into Bellanaboy - all to protect the profit making of a private company.”
Brian continued: “The situation is clearly unsustainable and the Dublin government must intervene to address the concerns of the local community and take this gas back into state control.
“Shell and An Garda Siochana have already lost the battle for hearts and minds across the country, it is clear that, despite their brutality, they are now losing the physical battle in Bellanaboy.”