Farmer and environmental activist Willie Corduff is in hospital after being attacked by a masked gang during a protest at the planned Corrib gas pipeline early on Thursday.
Mr Corduff had bedded down under a truck at the site in County Mayo where work is taking place on the controversial pipeline being built by Shell for their planned onshore gas refinery.
He is a member of the Rossport Five, who were jailed for 94 days in 2005 over their opposition to the routing of the high-pressure pipe.
The activist was taken to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar after at least six men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas beat him viciously about the head and knees.
“I thought they were trying to kill me,” said Mr Corduff. “They beat me until I stopped moving. I heard one of them say, ‘Stop now lads, he’s nearly finished.”
Earlier this week Shell decided to resume efforts to lay the offshore section of the pipeline after its environmental management plan was approved by Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan.
Mr Corduff and two other local men climbed under the truck at midday on Wednesday in an attempt to halt work at the site at Glengad, Bellanaboy. The other two men were removed but Mr Corduff vowed to stay under the vehicle until he had evidence that Shell had authorisation for their work.
In addition to being attacked by the masked gang, Mr Corduff also said that gardai threw stones at him yesterday in an attempt to remove him from under the truck.
However, Gardai claimed that up to 15 people wearing balaclavas and carrying tools, bars and chains vandalised the construction site last night. This statement was angrily denied by the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign, which is seeking to have the refinery moved offshore for safety and environmental reasons.
“Allegations that protesters entered Glengad site carrying iron bars and chains, or that any security personnel was harmed, are absolutely untrue,” Shell to Sea Mayo spokesman Terence Conway said.
The group said it was “appalled” at the attack” on Mr Corduff by a gang it described as Shell security force wearing balaclavas.
“Willie had been under that truck on the Glengad site for 16 hours, when at approximately 3:00am [hired] security wearing balaclavas moved in to forcibly remove him.
“Subsequently an ambulance was called and brought him to Castlebar Hospital, where he still remains. Today is the second anniversary of the day that Willie Corduff won the Goldman Environmental prize.
“A local resident who was present that the time stated that he saw the masked security men push Willie to the ground and start kicking him and hitting him with large batons. They knelt on his head and twisted his arms behind his back as they beat him.
“His brother-in-law attempted to aid Willie but was pushed back repeatedly and forcibly removed by the masked Shell security into an adjacent field where he was then knocked to the ground, kicked and beaten.
Ms Conway stated: “This was a vicious and cowardly attack by this group of balaclava-wearing Shell mercenaries in the middle of the night, on a brave member of our community, Willie Corduff, who was peacefully protesting the illegality of this project.
“The only violence that happened in Glengad last night was carried out by Shell security”.