Over the course of recent weeks the state has intensified its intimidation of Shell to Sea campaigners. The detention in Mountjoy jail of Maura Harrington, the issuing of summons against other campaigners and the assault by Gardai on Niall Harnett that led to his hospitalisation are a clear indication of the imminent re-commencement of work by Shell at Glengad in north Mayo.
Shell’s attempts to carry out their work at Glengad and to lay their off shore pipe-line failed last year when the pipe-laying ship the Solitaire was forced to depart the area without completing its work following nationwide protests and an 11-day hunger strike by Maura.
Maura was jailed on March 11 for 28 days by Judge Mary Devins, wife of Fianna Fail Minister Jimmy Devins, on charges of assault relating to an incident that occurred at Pollathomais Pier in June 2007. During that incident, up to 20 people were brutally injured by Gardai who assisted Shell in forcing their way onto private property with a digger against the wishes of the landowner Paddy McGrath.
While Maura was charged with assault, no Garda was charged for their brutality on the day, or for invading Paddy McGrath’s property. In Jailing Maura, Devins attempted to humiliate her further by ordering her to receive psychiatric assessment, to pay the Garda Benevolent Fund O1000 and to refrain from interfering with Shell’s work for twelve months. Refusing to bow to these insults Maura received a further two days in jail for contempt of court.
On the same day Niall Harnett was assaulted by Gardai at Belmullet court which resulted in his hospitalisation. The following day Judge Devins dismissed assault charges brought by Niall against three Gardai as he remained in hospital unfit to attend court.
More than 20 summonses have also now been issued to ten campaigners relating to their involvement in a number of protests last year against Shell in the region. While hundreds took part in those events it seems that Shell’s Cops have deliberately targeted specific individuals with a view to crippling campaigning on the issue.
Also particularly reprehensible has been the long running attempts by sections of the media to smear and demonise those involved in opposing the give-away of our natural resources to Shell. Their gutter journalism is reminiscent of similar such campaigns waged against republicans over the course of the past few decades and was evident again in recent days. In particular their attempts to publicly vilify Maura since her detention were despicable, though not surprising.
There clearly exists a deliberate policy by the state, their surrogates within the media, and by Shell to silence, intimidate, demonise and tie up Shell to Sea activists with ongoing court cases and bogus charges. It is a clear strategy to distract and divert opposition to Shell and the giveaway of the oil and gas reserves worth up to O500 billion off our coast in the Corrib field and elsewhere.
Currently the work Shell need to carry out at Glengad hasn’t begun yet. However, the recent upsurge of state harassment of campaigners, coupled with information coming from the Erris area, indicates that the work is now imminent. Onshore work is likely to begin in the coming weeks with the offshore pipe-laying by the Solitaire now likely to commence sometime in April or May. The Department of Energy and Natural Resources have also recently received more than 200 submissions, most of which are from local residents calling on Minister Eamonn Ryan to agree a public oral hearing so that public opposition to the pipeline can at last be openly aired.
These coming weeks and months are now of vital importance. All of us, republicans, socialists and progressives of all persuasion, must rally our resources and intensify the campaign against Shell. It is a huge challenge as the forces of the state, as we have repeatedly seen, will be deployed in large numbers to act as Shell’s enforcers and bully-boys in Erris. They will spare no effort to defeat us.
It is for these reasons in the time ahead that we must build a mass campaign for the nationalisation of Irish natural resources. We must mobilise to ensure that justice prevails, not just for the people of Erris, but for the people of Ireland as a whole. We must ensure that Maura is freed and that the rights of other activists are upheld, that the pipeline is disrupted, that Shell are run out of Ireland with their tail between their legs and that the Corrib gas field at long last is taken under public control.
Despite the presence of such vast energy resources capable of satisfying Ireland’s energy requirements for decades, tens of thousands of families continue to struggle to heat their homes. Because of this approximately 3000 people die from preventable, cold-related illness annually. Now as the recession deepens and unemployment soars, fuel poverty is set to increase rapidly. Despite this, the Fianna Fail led administration has spearheaded a witch-hunt against public sector workers and workers in general. Attempts have been made to scapegoat victims as the perpetrators of an economic crisis created by failed policy and the greed fuelled actions of big business in this country.
Given the choice between nationalising the Corrib gas or imposing pay cuts on workers and slashing vital health and education services, the Fianna Fail led administration has shown where their loyalties lie. They will not make the decision to nationalise the Corrib gas field willingly. It is therefore our collective responsibility as Irish citizens to force the changes in this country that are required to ensure a future for all the children of the nation.