Rossport ‘ready for attack by State’

[ This article was first published in Village Magazine on Thursday, February 9th, 2006 ]

2006 looks set to be the make-or-break year in the struggle between Rossport, Shell and the Government, with locals expecting riot police in their community this summer. Micheál Ó Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, spoke to William Hederman

The people of Rossport are “ready for the attack by the State” that they expect to come in 2006, according to Micheál Ó Seighin, one of the five Mayo men who spent 94 days in jail last year over the high-pressure gas pipeline Shell wants to lay through the Co Mayo village.

“The mood here is one of absolute determination,” Ó Seighin told Village. “We in Erris haven’t been attacked by the state since 1798, when the Redcoats were sent in after the French landed.”

Michéal Ó Seighin (right) and Willie Corduff (left) outside the Four Courts in Dublin, following their release from prison, September 30th 2005. They and three other men had spent 94 days in jail. Copyright: William Hederman

Locals are objecting on health and safety grounds to a 9 km section of the Corrib Gas pipeline due to be laid through Rossport.

Ó Seighin claims gardaí are taking Shell’s reports “of intimidation by us as true, without question or investigation. They’ll be using this as an excuse to move in riot police.”

The Garda Press Office declined to comment, except to say “appropriate measures will be used as the situation develops.” It has been revealed that the Garda bill for protecting the pipeline project to date is €933,000. In a reply to a recent Dáil question by Mayo TD Jerry Crowley, Justice Minister Michael McDowell said this included the surveillance of activists opposed to the pipeline.

The Rossport Five are due back in court this Monday, 13 February, when the President of the High Court, Justice Finnegan, may impose sentence as punishment for disobeying the court in 2005.

On 1 February the five men suspended their involvement in a mediation process with ICTU secretary general Peter Cassells, because of what they called “the continued and direct interference in the mediation process” Minister for Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey. The Minister denies this interference.

Ó Seighin sees the mediation process as “merely another con” on the part of the Government. “The pipeline project now has no credibility,” Ó Seighin says. “Our position in technical terms has been supported all round. The Government is trying to con us at every turn. It’s obvious they have nowhere to go. The only recourse left to them is to send in hundreds of riot police to force us off and force the pipeline in.”

Shell E&P Ireland told Village it “couldn’t speculate” about whether protestors may have to be physically removed. The company still insists “all concerns can be addressed in partnership with the local community.”

A final version of a safety review of the onshore pipeline by Advantica consultants has been given to Minister Dempsey and is due to be published soon.

Shell E&P Ireland is part of the Royal Dutch Shell corporation, which has reported €20 billion profit for 2005, the highest ever recorded for a UK-listed company. Several of its non-executive directors, including former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, travelled to Ireland on 26 January for private meetings with Rossport locals and Mayo TDs.

The view from Rossport across Sruwaddacon Estuary to Glengad. Copyright: William Hederman

When it transpired that the delegation would only be meeting “non-opposing” landowners, more than 60 protestors forced their way into one of the meetings, at Greannaí near Rossport, and confronted the Shell board members. According to the protestors, the directors were “shocked into silence” by their arguments and determination.

The Shell to Sea campaign wants Shell to build the refinery at sea, which would remove the need for the high-pressure pipeline through Rossport.

Asked what the wider implications of a victory for the campaign might be, Ó Seighin says the affair “has already shown that the day has passed when a major project can walk over a community without proper consultation.” But as far as “victory” goes, he is downbeat: “We have lost so much already, there is no victory.”

“Our victory now will be to endure,” he says, quoting a poem by Seán Ó Tuama. “The Government is now facing our ability to endure.”

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