Mayo fisherman Pat O’Donnell has vowed to continue his opposition to the Corrib gas project on health, safety and environmental grounds, following his release from prison at the weekend.
Mr O’Donnell was arrested amid a campaign of protest by local residents and environmental activists against the high pressure gas pipeline being laid by Shell Oil onto the Mayo shoreline.
The ‘Shell to Sea’ campaigner was jailed in February after being singled out by Gardai and convicted of public order offences following a cavalcade in support of fellow activist Maura Harrington, who was on hunger strike at the time.
He served just over five months of a seven-month sentence imposed at Castlebar Circuit Court.
Speaking after the rally and a car cavalcade to Ballina, Mr O’Donnell said that his “worst fears had been realised” in prison, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th.
As a fisherman, he said he “felt” for his colleagues who could no longer fish in the Gulf of Mexico due to the consequent pollution.
“They were depending on “fail safe” valves which didn’t work... the same thing could happen here,” Mr O’Donnell said.
He said he met some of “the most decent people ever” in prison - men from “difficult social backgrounds who had committed crime at a young age and were unable to put their lives back together”.
Up to 120 attended the Shell to Sea rally to mark Mr O’Donnell’s release.
A statement by Sligo-based eirigi activist and Shell to Sea supporter Gerry Casey said: “Pat’s determined resistance, despite everything that the state has thrown at him and his family, is an inspiration to all those opposed to Shell’s planned pipeline in north Mayo and the giveaway of our natural resources.
“Like fellow campaigners Maura Harrington, who was recently jailed for the fifth time in connection with the protests against Shell, and Niall Harnett, who remains in Castlerea prison serving a six-month sentence, Pat has endured intimidation, arrest and assault by the Gardai and Shell’s notorious security firm I-RMS [Irish Risk Management Services].
“His right and ability to earn a living have been seriously affected by his principled stance and by this blatant intimidation by the state and Shells goons. He has been arrested as he went about his lawful business fishing in Broadhaven Bay. He has had his boat seized and impounded by Gardai in order to assist Shell by preventing him from fishing in the area.
“He has also had his boat hi-jacked and sank by armed and masked thugs. No attempt was made by Gardai to investigate that attack from which Pat and his crew were lucky to escape with their lives.
“Indeed the Garda Press Office were busy from the start trying to spin the line that no attack ever took place and that for some inexplicable reason, he decided to sink his own boat, even though it would result in Pat being unable to fish and earn his living.
“Despite all of this Pat refused to surrender or be bought off and he remained a staunch and key opponent of Shell within his community. It is because of his determined activism that he was singled out for such treatment, charged and ultimately jailed despite the complete absence of any credible evidence against him.
“The treatment of Pat, and indeed the entire community in north Mayo, at the hands of the state is a damning indictment of what passes for justice in the Twenty-Six County state. This is particularly so in north Mayo where Shell law, not the law of the state, rules supreme, policed and enforced on their behalf by the Gardai and the judiciary.”
Shell to Sea spokesperson Maura Harrington described Pat O’Donnell’s jailing as “part of an ongoing pattern” in north Mayo.
She said members of the community who prominently oppose the project, particularly those who make formal complaints about Garda behaviour, have repeatedly been arrested or summonsed on “farcical” charges such as loitering or traffic offences which collapse when they come to court, only to be followed up by new charges.”
“Pat O’Donnell was selected for vexatious arrests, beatings and jailing because he is an example of a person who could not be bullied or bought,” she said.
“The people of Ireland need to ask themselves what the State is afraid of here.”
Three people have been arrested and later released last week under public order legislation, and a file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
One of the three, Dublin electrician and Rossport Solidarity Camp supporter Eoin Lawless, was manhandled out of the water when his kayak was capsized as he approached one of the platforms on Wednesday evening.
A garda policeman also tried to block his airway, requiring him to receive medical treatment after his arrest in Belmullet Garda station.
Rossport Solidarity Camp supporters, who have initiated a “beat the boreholes” campaign to stop Shell drilling in the area, believe the Corrib gas developers are trying to degrade the local environment in advance of a reopened planning hearing on a revised pipeline route on August 24th.