Shell to Sea campaigner and local fisherman Pat O’Donnell has been sentenced to 7 months in jail after being found guilty of a “breach of the peace” and “obstructing a Garda”.
In total 21 people appeared before Mayo courts on Wednesday in relation to protests against Shell Oil’s controversial Corrib Gas Project. Shell is seeking to build an onshore gas refinery and high-pressure gas pipeline in a scenic and residential part of north Mayo.
Fourteen campaigners appeared before Belmullet District court which were all adjourned until March, while seven were involved in appeal cases before Judge Raymond Groarke in Castlebar Circuit Court.
The Circuit Criminal Court in Castlebar was told that O’Donnell and a group of around 30 others had surrounded an unmarked garda car and used abusive language on 14 September 2008.
Judge Raymond Groarke described the actions of the group as a “dreadful” event which had intimidated the gardai.
Pat ‘The Chief’ O’Donnell has been a vocal opponent of Shell’s Corrib Gas project. He is a local fisherman who whose family has fished Broadhaven Bay for generations. Mr O’Donnell is against the destruction of the Bay and his livelihood by Shell, and has been assaulted by Shell security and Gardai on a number of previous occasions.
“All I am trying to do is protect my family and the seas that are our livelihood,” he has said. “My family has fished these waters for five generations - I have no authority to sell the rights to these waters”.
Mr O’Donnell made headlines in June 2009 when his boat was sunk by 4 armed and masked men in Broadhaven Bay. Later that month both Mr O’Donnell and his son Jonathan were arrested in Broadhaven Bay just prior to the arrival of Shell’s pipelaying vessel, the Solitaire.
Both fishermen’s boats were impounded, yet no charges were brought against Pat and charges were later dropped against Jonathan.
Commenting on this week’s jailing, Shell to Sea spokesperson Terence Conway said:
“Once again the jailing of Pat O’Donnell shows selective prosecution on behalf of the Gardai. Pat O’Donnell was picked out of a crowd of 60 people. The sentences are totally disproportionate to any alleged law-breaking and seem to be a punishment for opposing the Governments’ facilitation of Shell.
“Pat O’Donnell has been a constant thorn in Shell’s side as he has refused to be bought off, and has upheld his legal and traditional right to fish in Broadhaven Bay. Now, as Shell prepare to occupy Broadhaven Bay in the coming months for further pipeline work, Pat O Donnell is conveniently stuck in jail”
Commenting on the court proceedings, Maura Harrington said Gardai had “battered and brutalised” people under a ‘no-arrest policy’ in 2006.
“Now in 2010, they are also putting selected people in jail. However we will continue our campaign and its heartening to see our support growing.”
Another Shell to Sea campaigner who was involved in the incident, 46-year-old farmer Martin McDonnell, was given a four-month suspended jail sentence and fined 500 euro.
Two other members of the protest group, Tony King, a 65-year-old farmer and Kevin Moran, an unemployed machine drivey, were each fined 500 euro for public order offences.
Spokesperson for Dublin Shell to Sea Caoimhe Kerins said: “This sentence is yet another example of the very harsh punishments being given to prominent anti-Shell campaigners for what are minor public order offences.
“The community living close to Shell’s proposed experimental refinery is being criminalised for their opposition to this disastrous project.”