22 May 1997 Edition

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Support for Swampy

As the bailiffs move in Robert Allen speaks out in support of the those campaigning to prevent a second runway at Manchester airport

Indications that the British state was preparing itself for the eviction of those protesting against Manchester airport's new runway began with the arrest of Swampy - the London media's favourite eco-tunneller.

Swampy was arrested on numerous charges but was done for possession of cannabis. More significantly, he was bailed off the site of the protest - a tactic used to great effect in the battle against Britain's eco-warriors.

Whether Swampy and the rest of the protesters who have been arrested in recent weeks will remain seven miles away from the protest camps - as their bail conditions dictate - will depend on how much support the campaigners get.

The protest against the building of Manchester's second runway has been going on for 25 years but it was never going to get serious until the occupation of the construction site by those who don't believe in planning hearings and legal appeals.

The protesters' naive belief that the authorities would hold off until after the final appeal was swiftly shattered. As the eviction began, with reports of violence used against the protestors and reporters barred from the site, a desperate call went out for people to join the seven camps to prolong the peaceful protest, to prevent the destruction of over 1000 acres of farmland, mature woodland and 43 ponds - a living, breathing ecosystem. Some Irish eco-activists were expected to join the protest. These included campaigners who are gearing themselves up for a battle against the 26 County state over the widening of the Glen of the Downs road in Wicklow.

Anti-road campaigns in the 26 Counties are now expected to match the EU grants for road building. Last Wednesday several activists were present at Roadstone's AGM to put questions on their environmentally destructive activities and to discover if the company had made contributions - directly or indirectly - to politicial parties and individual politicians in the last ten years.

Whether the anti-road protesters will make an impact will depend on the support they get from other social and green movements as well as the wider community. There is an even greater need now for non-violent direct action and information dissemination to begin the process which will repair the damage being done to the ecosystems we all depend on for our survival.

All around us in Ireland environmentally destructive activity is eroding the quality of our lives. Initiatives to involve communities and concerned individuals at the level of policy-making are having no impact - because both the Dublin and Westminster administrations make sure that only non-government organisations and academics get invited to participate, people who lack the political will to force change.

Four years ago David Ehrenfeld in his book `Beginning Again: People and Nature in the New Millenium' joined the chorus of those who have been warning us about the ``great impending change'' that has grasped 20th century society and is destroying the rich cultural and ethical heritage of humanity. ``Many of those,'' he wrote, ``who still have material wealth deny all change and use their power to resist the efforts of that growing but still small number of people who are trying to find a better and more lasting way to live.''

This power rests among those who run nation-states and multinationals. Their servants in Ireland include bodies like the 26 County Environmental Protection Agency which has recently shown its true colours by granting a licence to Roche Ireland in Clarecastle to send carcinogenic synthetic chemicals into the County Clare atmosphere, and by giving permission to Monsanto to begin trials on genetically-engineered sugar beet on a Teagasc farm in Carlow.

It includes bodies like the Office of Public Works who, along with the regional fisheries boards, local authorities and central government, play a crucial role in water supply in the 26 Counties. It's been ten years since the fisherpeople of Galway and Mayo told the world that the western lakes - Corrib, Mask (the last sanctuary of the brown trout in Europe) and Carra - were in danger. The green movement got interested, so did the Dublin media for a while, and then everyone forgot about the problem. With the recent spate of good weather and the political issue of water charges, it has come back again. Presently the Mask is the source of fresh water for the towns and villages around its shoreline but next year it will provide water for a larger proportion of the Mayo population.

Our politicians and bureaucrats act as if the ecological problems of the planet are somehow distant from this land of ours, that we can continue to consume the resources of this island and not pay a price.

Future generations will curse us for having to pay this price with the quality of their lives. Some of us are already paying this price. Although people in the western world live to older ages, more are dying of cancer and in the so-called developing world cancers - which were unknown before industrialisation - are endemic.

So it is essential that we lend our support to other cultures who are resisting the developments, like new runways, that are detrimental to the survival of habitats and the smaller species. It is essential too that we challenge the state when it proposes the widening of a road that serves no other purpose than to speed the wheels of commerce. It is essential we speak out when the state decides, in its ignorance, to allow multinational chemical companies to pollute our air with toxic chemicals. It is essential that we demand control over the methods used to produce our food and tell people like Monsanto, the EPA and Teagasc that we don't want genetically-engineered food. And it is essential that we protect eco-systems like the western lakes and manage our water needs more efficiently.

These are tasks which are not beyond us, but we need to speak up and act before it is too late.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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