It is hoped that a 10-day hunger strike by Mayo teacher Maura Harrington will end shortly following the announcement by Shell Oil on Thursday that its pipe-laying ship is to leave Irish territorial waters and sail to Britain for repairs.
Ms Harrington went on hunger strike to demand the departure of ‘The Solitaire’ brought in to lay a high-pressure gas pipeline to a refinery under construction on the Erris peninsula.
In a statement, the company said the ship would remain in a British port until a ‘further assessment of factors including operational, technical and weather issues was completed.’
Shell also said it was also sending a special diving support vessel to the County Mayo coast to salvage an 80 tonnes section of pipe laying equipment lying on the seabed.
Maura Harrington has said she will quit her hunger strike when she receives written confirmation that the Solitaire has left Irish territorial waters.
The development follows increased direct confrontation on the Mayo shoreline between activists and pipeline workers, with an Irish Navy vessel deploying in support of the Shell operation last week.
Tensions culminated on Monday with the discovery on Monday of a non-viable explosive device on the steps of Shell headquarters in Dublin. Campaigners denied any involvement in the Dublin incident, and both Shell and Erris community groups have since called for calm.
Two community groups, which have proposed a compromise location for the onshore gas refinery, issued a joint statement “unreservedly” and “totally” condemning the placing of the device.
Shell to Sea and the Rossport Solidarity Camp in Mayo have said that the device was “nothing to do with them”. A spokesman for both groups, Niall Harnett, said they were “not into the politics of condemnation”.
Separately, Dublin Shell to Sea said it rejected completely an “unfounded insinuation” by Shell that the device was “made and placed by Shell to Sea supporters”.
Earlier this week, Labour Party TD Michael D Higgins called on Environment Minister Eamon Ryan to provide leadership and respond to the compromise proposal for the gas refinery made by three Erris priests almost a year ago.
Mr Higgins said that it was time that Mr Ryan addressed the “vacuum” which “he has left by not responding to the priests’ plan”.
Mr Ryan’s inaction was “totally unhelpful”, he said.
eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson pledged the socialist republican party’s full support for the people of Mayo and extended solidarity and expressed concern over Maura Harrington’s continuing hunger strike.
Brian said: “Maura’s demand is simple; the Solitaire ship that Shell has contracted must leave Irish territorial waters. She has stated quite clearly that her hunger-strike won’t end until that objective has been achieved.
“Given that the Solitaire has now left Broadhaven Bay, Shell needs to clarify the situation. Has the pipe laying work been suspended for the winter or will the ship be returning to Mayo once the repairs it has been claimed are needed are complete?
“Their refusal to state their intentions thus far is worrying and a continued refusal can be seen in no other light than a blatant disregard for Maura Harrington’s life.”