27 October 2005 Edition
Shell-to-Sea campaign - Two laws for Rossport and Shell
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Rossport 5 consolidate support
Vincent McGrath, one of the Rossport 5, declared their defiance at a public meeting in Dublin last Monday. "One of the suggestions from an Opposition party leader to solve the Rossport 5 situation was relocation. Well my ancestors were relocated to Mayo in 1650. I think it was a man named Cromwell. And that is enough for me. We are not moving."
The Five Rossport men, who spent 94 days in prison, were speaking to a large meeting of supporters who gathered at the ATGWU Hall on the night before their court appearance this week.
"Cowardice masked as obedience"
The meeting heard from Finbar Dwyer about the Solidarity Camp at Rossport. He described work that young people have done throughout the summer both to help the families and to maintain a 24-hour vigil on Shell's activities on the site. He explained how now, over the winter they have rented a local house to which all activists are welcome to visit and to help to fund.
There was much comment from the floor about the role of different political parties in the campaign. Vincent McGrath summed it up: "A lot of ordinary 'grassroots' Fianna Fáil people would be on our side, but the Fianna Fáil TDs are instructed to follow the party whip and it's a scary thing to see such 'discipline'. It reminds me of what Ken Saro-Wiwa described as 'cowardice masked as obedience'."
On Tuesday 26 October the Rossport 5 were in court to hear legal argument, addressed to President of the High Court Justice Finnegan, on whether he had the power to punish the five for refusing to agree to abide by the terms of the injunction which he gave to Shell. The question was whether the injunction gave punitive powers in addition to the coercive powers of an injunction.
Argument was put in terms of precedents, arguing that the judge had no such power and that the Rossport 5 had spent long enough in jail to have served their time for their alleged contempt, and further punishment would amount to double jeopardy.
It was further argued that in any case the five were not in jail because of holding the High Court in contempt so much as from reasons of fear of the dangerous effects of Shell's proposed pipeline on their lives and that of their families and neighbours.
Furthermore it was argued that jailing the Rossport 5 would look most unreasonable in the face of the strong feeling there is amongst the public in support of their cause.
It has also been argued that the original injunction, on foot of which the Rossport 5 were imprisoned, brought the court into disrepute given that Shell was in breach of consents for the work of constructing the pipeline.
Court treatment of Shell
There was a stark difference in the court's approach to Shell the previous week, when Judge Finnegan heard the Rossport 5 claim that the company had breached its own undertaking not to carry out work on the pipeline. The work of welding the pipeline, which Minister Dempsey had instructed Shell to dismantle, and which Shell has not yet done, was said by the judge to be a matter between Shell and the Minister and not for his court's jurisdiction at all.
Meanwhile, the Minister stated that he "was considering legal issues" which would allow him to defer his own order to dismantle the illegally welded sections of the pipeline. While the Minister makes up his mind on this issue, workers on the dismantling operation were reported to have been withdrawn by Shell in order to attend a "safety course".
Meanwhile, the Minister still delays on his undertaking to appoint a mediator -- though, as Mark Garavan, spokesperson for the Shell-to-Sea Campaign, points out, any talk of mediation is singularly inappropriate, given that Shell has often declared, as recently as last Friday at a press conference, that it has no intention of altering its plans for an on-shore pipeline.