23 November 2006 Edition
Shell to Sea: Day of Action cancelled
BY ELLA O'DWYER
The Shell to Sea Solidarity Day scheduled for this Friday 24 November has been cancelled. In a statement released on Monday the campaign's national spokesperson Mark Garavan said: "Shell to Sea is calling off the Day of Solidarity planned for next Friday. It is doing so solely in order to protect the health and safety of participants. During the Day of Action on Friday, 10 November, Gardaí prevented a peaceful march taking place. Serious disruption was caused by Garda roadblocks to local people travelling to work and school. Subsequently, Gardaí employed an unacceptable level of aggression and force against people engaged in peaceful protest and minor civil disobedience. In these actions a number of people received serious injuries.
"We therefore judge that it is no longer safe to invite large numbers of people to participate in peaceful protest. Shell to Sea wishes to exercise responsibility and leadership in this time of crisis in North Mayo. We wish to avoid any potential for further injuries and to minimise disruption to our community. It is likely that Gardaí would similarly prevent a further peaceful march and employ aggressive policing methods to do so. It is clear from the evidence that senior Gardaí lack sufficient training in how to appropriately police peaceful civil disobedience.
"In the coming weeks Shell to Sea will redouble its campaign. The Shell to Sea proposal to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry remains the only viable method to resolve this crisis. We welcome the widespread support this proposal has received. We call on all people with responsibility in Mayo and nationally to insist that the government and Shell engage in the meaningful process which this proposal outlines. Despite the media enhanced distractions of the last few weeks the issues remain. The Shell project does not have the consent of the majority of the people directly affected by it. The use of force does not change this reality. It is simply not acceptable for the Taoiseach and others in authority to announce that all matters are now over. At this critical time the people of Erris, Mayo and the country deserve and insist on better leadership than that."
Speaking to An Phoblacht after the announcement Mark Garavan said: "For now the National Day of Action would serve no purpose. The campaign continues as always but for now, given the state of play, the national days of action are not safe to hold. That's the sole reason for cancelling next Friday's protest. But the campaign goes on and given the level of support we're getting we're very confident and happy at the moment that we're building a strong level of popular support around the country and we intend to build on that."
Commission of Inquiry
On the proposed Commission of Inquiry Garavan said: "At this point all opposition parties, besides Fine Gael, support the proposal -- at least in principle. We're hoping that this proposal will be taken up as part the public debate. The government rejected the proposal after only two hours of receiving it, suggesting they didn't really study it and giving the lie to the notion that they want a solution and dialogue. The purpose of the Inquiry is to get the project running properly and in a way that will bring real benefits to the community involved and in a way that will be safe. It'll be for the state to fund the project as a matter of public importance and under fair criteria. What we're hoping is that this will form part of the public debate. There's an election coming up so let's see where this brings us. There's no other proposal on the table so we're very strongly of the view that this is the way forward."
In the meantime the local protests and Shell station protests will continue. Reiterating the health and safety factors behind the campaign's decision to cancel this Friday's event Garavan said one man was almost killed on Friday 10 November. That's a fact so it's a serious situation. It's ok if you've all young, fit people to bring out in large numbers but not with the age range in our community. We have women, children and elderly people and they can't be exposed to indiscriminate battering. We have to deal with the whole issue responsibly."
Asked if he thought people would interpret the cancellation as a victory for the brutal tactics of the Gardaí and the government he said: "That would be a very fascile interpretation. Everyday local people are coming out anyway. They're continuing their protest. They're not standing down in any way. It's not a victory for bullying. It's being responsible given the situation."
On what he would he say to the supporters now Garavan said: "We're having a strategy meeting this Saturday calling for our supporters to come up with ideas that will allow people to continue the campaign at their own local level."
Asked how he felt about the media treatment of the whole Shell to Sea campaign in recent weeks he said: "In general, with some exceptions, the coverage has been pretty poor. We've been subjected to incredibly aggressive and negative media coverage for many weeks now. Some individual campaigners have been targeted cruelly by the media. Undue attention has been given to violence. We've been accused of all kinds of subversion -- we've been called Provos or anarchists. There's been a relentless media barrage and it's all done with a view to blackening us and side-tracking from the real issues - obscuring the issues.
"We're confident we can argue our case given a fair hearing. Everything has been about side-tracking and deliberately so."
Is he still confident of winning? "Yes absolutely because the issues are so important. The viability of this community is at stake here. We are pursuing the campaign through every legal avenue. For instance there's the legal aspect involved in Shell's initial planning application in that they didn't provide all the information. The local people are absolutely determined to continue on and to succeed.
On Tuesday last Shell to Sea held a press conference in Dublin. The panel included Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris, Independent TD for Mayo Jerry Cowley and Green Party leader Trevor Sargent aswell as Michael D Higgins TD of the Labour Party, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins and Independent Senator David Norris. There was unanimous support for the Shell to Sea campaign amongst the speakers and in particular for the call for an independent Commission of Inquiry. All the speakers condemned the Garda handling of protests at Bellanaboy and accusations of external infiltration of the campaign.
Martin Ferris commended the actions of the Shell to Sea campaign and its supporters at Bellanaboy over the last few weeks. "In the face of Garda intimidation they held firm to their commitment to peaceful non-violent direct action and in doing so they displayed a courage and determination that has inspired people across this island, and beyond.
"For standing up for themselves and their community, they have received little sympathy in some quarters of the media, especially in those newspapers whose owner has major investments in off-shore oil and gas exploration", he said.
John Monaghan of the Shell to Sea campaign said he was "glad to see the rainbow of support represented on the panel".