15 November 2007 Edition
As Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight are commemorated in Ireland...
Gardaí punch and kick Shell to Sea protesters
ONE PERSON was injured and three others arrested as a huge force of gardaí confronted several hundred Shell to Sea protestors, including members of Ógra Shinn Féin on Friday, 9 November, at Bellinaboy, County Mayo.
Roads were blocked off and activists separated in an attempt by gardaí to force through vehicles involved in work on Shell’ s controversial gas pipeline project in the area.
Despite these efforts, a determined crowd of over 300 people – including locals, neighbours and concerned people from as far away as Dublin, Belfast and Cork – managed to converge on the main road leading to the site.
Gardaí held protesters on one side of the road to force through traffic to Gates 1 and 2. As soon as the first truck appeared, people began peaceful civil disobedience by sitting down and blocking the road. Gardaí responded aggressively, pulling, punching, kicking and throwing activists out of the way. Those who simply sat in the road were brutalised by gardaí many of whom, according to observers, “reeked of alcohol”.
One protester’s foot was run over by a truck, only to be saved from losing it by his steel-toed boot. Three protesters were arrested while many sustained cuts, scrapes and bruises.
The stand-off continued for over an hour and work by Shell was halted for the day.
Speaking after the protest, Ógra Shinn Féin spokesperson Oisín Ó Dubhláin, who was pictured on RTÉ being manhandled by gardaí, said:
“Though the gardaí were brutal, we must not be distracted or forget why we are here. Shell continues to build an unsafe refinery that will pump the natural resources of Ireland, which belong to the people, out of the sea and into its pockets. The Irish people have been and continued to be robbed and sold down the river by Shell, Fianna Fáil and now the Greens.
“Last year, almost to the day Shell’s cops – the Garda – batoned peaceful crowds of men, women and children; 12 years almost to the day, the Nigerian Government executed Ken Saro Wiwa at the behest of Shell.
“We must continue the fight for justice against Shell and their partners in government. We must continue to make it impossible for Shell to carry out the theft of Irish resources and endangerment of the people of Erris.
On Saturday, 10 November, Sinn Féin activists were once again at the forefront of organising the commemoration for Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed by the Nigerian government in 1995 after he led a peaceful campaign against the environmental degradation of his country being caused by the Shell Oil company. Sinn Féin and Ógra Shinn Féin members were also a part of the large crowd that braved the cold evening weather to attend the commemoration.
Sister Majella McCarron, of Ogoni Solidarity Ireland, made a short speech remembering her friend Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other men who were executed after a series of events that shocked the world in 1995. Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the defiant campaign against Shell in the Niger Delta were tried before a no-jury court in October 1995 and nine were summarily executed a few weeks later. Sister Majella provided an insight into the situation in Ogoniland today, reminding us that Shell has been unable to operate in the territory since 1993.
Independent Senator David Norris then read an excerpt from Saro-Wiwa’s speech at his sentencing hearing, when he and his co-defendants heard that the special military tribunal had decreed that they were to be hanged. A short film on the trial of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight – Don’t Let Shell Kill Again – was then projected onto the outside of the Shell headquarters building at Leeson Street in Dublin.
After the film screening, a wreath was laid at the front door of the Shell building.
Meanwhile, on the same day, the annual Ken Saro-Wiwa Memorial Seminar was held at University College Cork on 10 November, and Saro-Wiwa was remembered as well on Friday morning in Mayo, where an attempt to hold a peaceful march to the proposed Shell refinery site at Bellinaboy was marred by gardaí trying to force site traffic along the road. Protesters, including a large contingent of Sinn Féin members from around the country, were blocked from attending the peaceful demonstration and attempts to keep the road clear for the protest march were met by garda brutality. One protester was hospitalised after Garda officers allegedly directed a truck to drive into the crowd. Three others were arrested.
In Dublin, the large force of gardaí (including members of the Special Branch) who surrounded the commemoration brought to mind for many people attempts to intimidate opponents of Shell in other parts of the world by using the police as the multinational’s enforcers.