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Daily Mail's Propaganda War against Shell to Sea
Saturday October 07, 2006 16:23 by Miriam Cotton
Double page spread for Paul Palmer's mission in Mayo
'The silent majority of locals SUPPORT Shell's gas refinery and believe that it will be SAFE. What's more, they've been victims of a TERRIFYING campaign of bullying and intimidation - much of it led by Sinn Fein THUGS.
Got that everyone? That's SUPPORT SHELL, SAFE. SINN FEIN TERRIFYING THUGS.
Palmer has carefully crafted a version of events to suggest that it is the multi-billion dollar international oil interests, the huge police force in the area and the business- led political establishment who are the beleagured and innocent victims in the situation. Really?
As an exercise in attempting to persuade people to disregard the evidence of their own eyes, Palmer's article would be difficult to better. He kicks off with the tired old strategy we have seen on Indymedia, with monotonous regularity, of an anonymous source who claims that because she is so terrified of the protestors, she cannot identify herself. From the comfort and ease of that platform and without any proof whatsoever to back up her claims, she tell us that 'virtually everyone she knows is accepting of what Shell is doing. We have read the reports, we have gone to the meetings. We're not stupid.' Yes, well...neither are the rest of us.
Can it really be true that if there were any genuine instances of intimidation by protestors, the powerful alliance of right wing press, politicians and commercial interests ranged against them would not leap on the opprtunity to make the howling, screaming most of it in the media? Somehow, I doubt it. If one of the protestors so much as trips over their own shoelaces it will be occasion for a natioal press 'outrage'.
Rising valiantly to the occasion of the Daily Mail's mission in Mayo former Fianna Fail man and Mayo County Councillor Paddy Cosgrove insists that 'Many of the protestors at the gates are being used as pawns, and they don't even know it.' So, there you have it. Supporters of Shell are not stupid for believing what they are told by Shell (whose profit margins are only an incidental consideration, by the way), but protestors (who get their fingers broken and are hospitalised and spend long, wet, cold hours protecting their locality because they just like doing that sort of thing) are stupid for looking at the science and the finance in detail and realising that a lot of things dont actually stack up.
Mr Cosgrove and unspecified 'others' are also scathing of Sinn Fein's support for the protestors. Blithley disregarding his own political alignments as possibly bearing a trace of bias, he speaks darkly about the popular stance that Sinn Fein have adopted in relation to Rossport, as if Sinn Fein and voters were obliged to follow the FF party line. This would be typical of many an FFer around Ireland who seem to think that support for Fianna Fail is just commone sense and nothing to do with politics, while support for the others can only be explained as the devious exploitation by opposition parties of a gullible electorate. (Are we ever going to burst that particular bubble of FF arrogance?)
Mr Cosgrove also claims that the protest is being painted up as specifically anti British capitalism, a line of argument Im pretty sure Ive not seen on a single occasion. Demonstrating comprehensive ignorance of the stance of the Shell to Sea campaign, Mr Cosgrove claims that they are anti-business and anti modernisation. In fact a central plank of the Rossport Five and Shell to Seas' arguments has been, not that Shell should not produce gas from the field, but that it should be done safely and that there should be an appropriate dividend in it for the Irish people. A more solidly hard-headed and pro-business line of argument would be hard to find. If only theRossport Five had been in charge of the negotiations.
Buried deep in the Mail article is a pretence at acknowledging that the protestors may have had some genuine concerns about safety. But these are immediately dismissed as having now been dealt with by changes that Shell have made to their plans. Palmer cites the various approvals and permissions given to Shell which have never adequately addressed the safety issues raised by protestors and which properly independent reports have proved to be fully justified. Without providing any evidence to back this claim up Palmer says that 'almost to a man and woman, those changes have now satisifed local people.' The best proof of what Palmer is up to lies in his depiction of John Monaghan, son in law of Micheail O Sheighin - one of the Rossport Five. Monaghan is caricatured sarcastically as 'passionate' and 'intense' while Palmer conveys his bordeom and bemusement at having to listen to the Monaghan's explanation for the protest. The facts are clearly something Palmer is not interested in and his readers are none to subtly enouraged not to be interested in them either. That's what this article is really all about: turning the tide of popular support for a community under threat by making them seem stupid and/or msiguided. Does the Dail Mail have no concerns about its readership in Mayo - or anywhere else in Ireland for that matter.
Unsurprisingly, Palmer was able to discover that people who have been employed by Shell are happy enough with the situation and he accompanies his quotes from them with sly innnuendo. 'At no point was any Shell Executive present when we spoke. Both men were transparently honest although, given the fear of intimidation, they did ask not to be named.' We are supposed to believe that it is intimidation by protestors that he is alluding to but you can't help wondering what would become of the employees at the hands of their employers if they admitted any misgivings about the refinery itself. Would they keep their jobs if they went public? The workers say they live nearby with their families and that they are satisfied there are no safety concerns. Could people paid by Shell be regarded as truly independent witnesses? But even one of these allegedly pro Shell workers confides that a major reason he has for working for Shell is that he would prefer not to have to go back to England to find work having lived there for 30 years. Difficult though his personal circumstances may be, they do not add up to a rational justification for the way Shell are doing what they are doing. Emotional blackmail is not an argument for doing things the wrong way so as to benefit a relatively small number of people at the expense of the entire nation. And at a time of full employment in Ireland - when we have thousands of people flocking to our shores weekly to take up the vacant employment it doesnt seem that anything half so drastic as returning to England would be necessary for construction site workers. We are drowning in construction sites and building projects in Ireland. Whatever the truth of individual circumstances, we should be wary of this particular propaganda strategy which Palmer is clearly pushing hard: of setting local people against local people while ignoring the scientific, financial and safety issues, while Shell et al slide easily away, stage left.
Palmer claims that the propaganda war has largely been won by the protestors. But it is actually fairer to say that it is the argument itself that has been won by the protestors - whatever the legal position is. Shell to Sea have martialled the facts and the figures and proved beyond doubt that the project as it is currently envisaged is unsafe and financially ridiculous from the perspective of the Irish people.
The last word should go to John Monaghan, who Palmer practically sneers at in his article but who is nevertheless making the most serious point in the whole sorry piece when he is quoted:
"The first duty of a state is to defend its citizens. But look at this' [gesturing at the police presence] 'and you have a state at war with its citizens. So those citizens have to defend themselves.'