The last twelve plus hours saw protesters in Erris take on one of the largest Gardai operations Ireland has seen in some time – and ran rings around it. The mammoth operation saw hundreds of Gardai and IRMS security trying to escort the tunnel boring machine [TBM] to Aghoos. Yet Shell to Sea campaigners managed, in separate incidents, two lock-ons and used a car to blockade a bridge on the route of the TBM.
Following on from Sunday night's discovery of the arrival of the TBM into Dublin Port (see http://www.indymedia.ie/article/102198 & http://www.wsm.ie/c/garda-deployed-protect-shells-machi...eland ), protesters from Sligo met it at its overnight resting place, while others mobilised with people coming from across the country. We were told that there would be an armed response unit and other pieces would be joining the convey, having come in from Killybegs and Belfast.
Despite short notice a call out for a protest at Ballina 9pm, Monday night, was quickly picked up and spread. Local radio stations spread the word, and the sixty or so protesters were joined by many from Ballina and surrounding areas – some to see the TBM itself, but often offering support as well.
Banners were held calling for an end to Shell's occupying army, pointing out that not only were Shell colonizing Erris for its own needs, not and they were doing it with the connivance of the Irish state – who had supplied armed Gardai to add to their many insults. There were many plain-clothes cops circling around, some of them displaying remarkable faithfulness to 1970s stereotypes...
Just after midnight the first of the lock-ons went into place outside of Crossmolina. Despite a strong Gardai presence in this town, it caught them completely on the hop. The convoy was halted on the outskirts of Ballina, with the Sligo road being blocked by Gardai, while the public order team raced to deal with the lock-on. Protesters and others from Ballina attempted to reach the convoy but were turned back.
The lock-on lasted a little under an hour with two arrested. Reaction from the Gardai, never the most pleasant from the public order unit's cutting team of Butler and Gill was sourer than usual.
Protesters, undeterred, left Ballina and regrouped at Bellacorrick. After a few hours wait, topping ourselves up with refreshments, the convoy came into sight (4.30am). One well known local campaigner promptly blocked the bridge with her van, parking it diagonally across a narrow spot bringing things once again to a halt. Yet again despite there being several van loads of Gardai with us.
A tractor from Carey's Tool and Plant Hire of Bangor (097-83018 / 086-8236018) was brought up to haul it out – the company are well known for doing this for Shell over the years. Resistance was put up by the 30 or so protesters there, leading to a battle for the bridge. Though overwhelmed several times over by Gardai numbers, it took them time to clear us out of the way, kettling us next to the old pub. It was easy to see that it was starting to affect them.
Just as that was finishing and the convoy was on its way again, later than ever, news came through that a second lock-on was in place on the Bangor road (6am). Cue enraged Gardai as the carefully planned operation to move the TBM became farcical. Another hours worth of delay with another two arrests.
The whole of the surrounding area was sealed off, though some protester vehicles managed to get back to camp to the great irritation of local Gardai. To top it off, the TBM, now many hours later than it should have been, was unable to make the turning at Aghoos which would take it down to its final resting place. Thus forcing it to go to Glenamoy in order to turn and try again.
Where it promptly got stuck at 8am. One local couple were told to park their van up in a specific place by Gardai. Who then said they that was wrong and dragged it away to a new place. Where the turning truck crashed into it... adding insult to all of this, the l van driver was assaulted by Gardai. Then got stuck as the road began to cave in under the weight of the 162 ton segment; the driver refused to get back into the truck in case it toppled down the side of the embankment.
Meanwhile the tailbacks grew. Drivers, understandably irate irate drivers were threatened with arrested; an individual on McGrath's truck on their way to dialysis was sent home.
As it stands, the trucks are still there, one tied to the other to stop it slipping more. For a good image see http://www.shelltosea.com/sites/default/files/images/TB...y.jpg The main road to Rossport is cut off and might be for the foreseeable future as they try to find solutions. Word is that cranes might be brought in, but they come with their own sets of problems. The rain has finally started. We will wait and see, and probably have a few good laughs. The TBM, offensively, has been named Fionnuala from the Children of Lir, and like that legend may it be stuck there for 300 years...
It is fair to say people here are pleased. At short notice as great response was organised and the multi-million euro operation made a mockery off. Shell and the Irish state thought they were going to sneak the TBM in under everyone's noses. Instead they got a rapidly mobilised set of protests that used it to bring the campaign message to people who had not encountered it before. The farce it became was given the airtime it deserved, Shell's dirty secretly received a public washing. It was really spiriting to learn that a group of young lads had come down from Sligo to oppose it, having only just heard about it on the radio.
We thought that at best it would be highly symbolic, we never thought that we could make such a laughing stock of a multi-million euro operation. The icing on the cake though, came from Shell. The farce at Glenamoy shows them up for what they were. If they cant, with all that planning, get the TBM in, how can there be any trust that they can run the pipeline safely. As one sleep-deprived but cheerful camper said, if they cant even get the tunnel boring machine turned on the road, how the hell are they going to get it up the estuary...
Some press round up & images