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6 September 2007 Edition

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Shell to Sea : Struggle a microcosm of bad approach to development

Micheal O Seighin

Micheal O Seighin

We are not going away — Ó Seighin

Following a seven-year struggle against Shell’s controversial Corrib gas project local campaigner and member of the Rossport 5, MÍCHEÁL Ó SEIGHIN outlines the continuing resistance to Shell’s plans for the Erris area of North Mayo and the Irish government’s compliance with the multinational’s abuse of local people and the state’s abandonment of the interests of Irish citizens in relation to public safety and the exploitation of Ireland’s natural resources.

Last week, at the start of a radio interview, the interviewer asked me why we still resisted Shell’s plans for this area, as it is obvious that they and the Government intend to just bash away and ignore our protests. The question made me quite angry, which surprised even myself. Even after seven years of resistance it is hard to imagine that people in the media and elsewhere have not yet got the message; “WE are not going away.”
But even more surprising is the acceptance that although this project is more than likely wrong – the wrong place, inland, through and within a community, in the catchment of the water supply for the entire Erris area, through SACs and SPAs – we, the targets of this misbegotten concept, should just crawl quietly away so that the people of Norway and other folk more deserving than the mere Irish can count their Euros in peace.
How dare we point out that this pipeline is a production pipeline of enormous explosive potential with a great lack of historical data on which to base a safety plan. Do we think we’re important or some such?
We oppose the Corrib project now for the same reasons that we have always opposed it – it puts us at risk. Since the developers first came promising goodies and pie in the sky the same issues apply – it is a dangerous project. This is not to say that the pipeline engineers will try to make it unsafe, that the designers will plan poisonous emissions into the working of the refinery. Of course they won’t. But neither do they deliberately make any other refinery or pipeline dangerous but accidents happen  – they are a normal event in this industry and sometimes people die. Materials fail. People make mistakes. Plants malfunction. People get careless. In Carlsbad in 2000, twelve members of one family died when a moderately pressured gas pipe exploded and it really was no one’s fault.
Every day since I and four others were jailed, there is a protest held at Ballinaboy. On the 14th of this month a protest is again being held at Ballinaboy to highlight the, to us, obvious fact, that the protest goes on.  Since last October the daily grind has got more difficult since the squads of police have been sent in to enable the Shell project. Initially, according to the Garda Review, the decision was made (by whom?) not to arrest anyone because it was not intended (by whom?) to make martyrs.
As the resistance had until then been active on Shell’s land only, the guards forced us onto the public road and put up barriers so that we could now be accused of public order offences and of offences under the Traffic Acts. Superintendent Gannon alleged in the same Garda Review that local people had up until then been putting up road-blocks. This was not the case. We presume he reported likewise to his bosses. After baton charges and broken bones the arrests began and at the moment eleven people are facing jail – or maybe it is 13 by now?
And surprisingly, we still do not give our consent to this lunacy. The local resistance is heroic. The community is ready for whatever Shell and the State throws at them. It is surely strange that the State and its agents are openly the enemy of the people. Would Fintan Lalor understand?
To facilitate our release from jail, the Government and Shell announced that the project could only be implemented with the consent of the community. We never bought that one. Since then an urgent task has been to invent an alternative community to the one whose members live and die in this place, in this parish – the members of which will be directly affected by an “incident”.
Membership of this ‘alternative community’ has been very elastic, extending to several journalists and Gardaí including an ex-Garda in Ballina, which is 30 to 40 miles away. The creation of the alternative or virtual local community has re-written the baronial calendar by putting Tír Amhmalgaidh into Erris.
None of the ‘virtual locals’ will be around to wait for the incident we fear, incidents supposedly covered by “captive insurance”. That is that Shell, Statoil and Marathon seemingly do their own insurance and cover “predictable risks” in -house. Now I wonder why we have not been told what “predictable risks” are covered in Rossport and Ballinaboy? Why not allow us car drivers to rely on “captive insurance”? It would save me a lot of money!
For us – the local locals, this is a local issue. But we know very well that the implications of what is happening are national and maybe even universal. If they win this battle, the battle for reasoned development, has been set back. Health and safety of people in their own traditional areas will be set aside here and can be elsewhere.
The young people who man the solidarity camp are in the vanguard of the wider struggle for a world, a democracy that sees our struggle as a microcosm of what is wrong with the present approach to development. They are a great addition to us, our friends, colleagues, and we are ashamed of the ongoing moves, by state agencies and local government, to remove them from our community, with the connivance of regulatory agencies.
We count among the locals all people of goodwill who have looked at the issue and agreed with the judgement of the experts who say simply “The wrong place.” We have been blessed with the support of thousands of such people, from Ireland and abroad. Come to Ballinaboy on the morning of the 14th and be re-baptised in the faith that says together with good conscience that it is human to fight for what is right, even to suffer, and you will not be alone.

• Support the 14 September Protest – Bus from Dublin leaving Thursday evening, 13 September returning Friday night, €30 /25 (conc). Contact 0876107620 to book a place. If travelling from other areas contact local Sinn Féin Cuigí for info or call 0876181620. 

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