Eight more environmental activists were arrested in County Mayo today [Friday] after an extraordinary confrontation between the Irish Naval Service and campaigners attempting to halt the construction of a potentially dangerous high-pressure gas pipeline.
The involvement of the Naval Service in the ‘policing’ of Broadhaven Bay for Shell is a first for Ireland’s navy - the first time one of their ships has been called upon by the Garda police as back-up for their operation against environmental protests.
Shell contracters, working with the Gardai, also removed legal and licensed fishing gear from the bay.
The LE Orla arrived in Broadhaven Bay near Erris this week after the protesters attempted to stop the Shell pipeline-laying ship, The Solitaire, from operating in the bay.
The Shell to Sea protest group said activists in kayaks had paddled out to the LE Orla on Saturday in an unsuccessful effort to speak to the ship’s captain and crew.
“Shell to Sea marine activists are experienced in dealing with the Spanish, German, Dutch, Royal and US navies,” the group said in a statement.
“This fresh threat from the Irish Navy is totally disproportionate to the legitimate protest, which will continue against the Shell Corrib gas project in spite of this unprecedented development.”
This morning at 10am, 15 Shell to Sea activists entered the water at Glengad Beach to stop Shell pipeline excavation work. Dinghies, surfers and swimmers surrounded the Shell dredging machine and stopped the work by their presence in the water.
Three members of the Garda water unit then began picking people out of the boats and the water and bringing the protestors into the Shell compound where other Gardai conveyed them then to Belmullet Garda station.
Later, other protesters moved onto a rock in the sea near the dredging operation. Intermittently the dredger tried to begin work again even with people very close. In one instance, the dredging machine picked up large amounts of debris from the sea bed and dumped it within inches of the protesters. The final three protestors were carried away at around 1pm.
According to a Defence Forces spokesman, the LE Orla (which was formerly a British naval gunship patrolling Hong Kong) ‘was requested by Gardai as back-up at Broadhaven Bay, County Mayo. It is there as an aid to the civil power. It was requested to assist Gardai and provide them with a platform at sea.’
When asked if an Irish naval ship had been involved in a similar operation before, he replied: ‘Not to my immediate knowledge.’
He added: “The Naval Service has been in discussions with the Gardai about this operation. Any operation we undertake will be with the Gardai. We will not be involved in any operation independently of the Gardai.’
The pipe from the solitaire will bring gas from the Corrib field to landfall art Glengad, where there was a serious landslide in 2003. From there, Shell hopes to secure planning permission for the world’s first high-pressure production pipeline to transverse a blanket bog landscape through a residential area.
None of the the gas from the Corrib field belongs to Ireland, and Shell intends to sell the gas to the highest bidder, subject to a small royalty tax.
The cost of the Garda’s operation looks set to exceed O15 million by the end of the year. This compares with the O20 million available for Garda overtime under Operation Anvil, which targets organised crime gangs across the country.
The force has recently enlisted the help of Interpol to identify protesters who may have previously been involved in environmental campaigns in Britain and continental Europe.
Late last month, another eight protesters in wetsuits were arrested on public order grounds in the waters off the beach. Around 15 protesters were trying to stop work on the project when gardai moved in and arrested the eight.
Protesters have vowed to continue their actions until pipeline work stops.