Another Monday morning but no business as usual for Shell, although the state repression of dissent in Mayo shows no sign of stopping.
Much to chagrin of the Gardaí, a crowd of around two hundred people turned out to stop the movement of workers and materials to the Bellanaboy site this morning. A series of sit down protests were staged along the “Shell highway” (the haulage route for the site), which saw police reaction get progressively rougher as the day went on.
Protesters gathered from half six at the junction of the “Shell highway” and the Bellanaboy road with the intention of stopping work. As eight am approached the word went out that the convoy of workers was making its way up the Shell highway. Campaigners marched up the Shell highway, where a bus of Gardaí was waiting. As the convoy approached Gardaí formed a line in front of and behind the crowd. Campaigners sat on the road and began to loudly chant “shell to sea” before reciting a decade of the rosary. There was a mood of defiance amongst the crowd as attempts by Sgt. Gannon to berate them were drowned out by louder shouts of “Shell to Sea”. After it became apparent that campaigners were determined to hold their ground Gardaí began to forcibly drag people out of the way of the vehicles. Gardai lifted some people from the left hand side of the road and deposited them on top of those still sitting, causing a dangerous pile up. After clearing one side of the road Gardaí formed a cordon pushing the remaining seated protesters back and allowing the convoy of half full minibuses ferrying Shell’s hired labour past.
After the Shell’s workers had been allowed past and police lines relaxed, protesters reformed and marched further down the Shell highway with the aim of blocking trucks carrying materials, accompanied as always by an escort of Gardaí. As the crowd approached the Bellanaboy bridge Gardaí made a dash to hold the bridge forming a cordon across the road. Several protesters succeeded in getting past the line and continued up the road. As materials trucks approached the break away protesters unaccompanied by Gardaí sat on the road blocking trucks several hundred meters away. Gardaí on the bridge, quickly realising what was happening, boarded a Garda minibus forcibly moving protesters on the bridge out of the way. The resistance shown to police attempts to herd the blockaders was met by rough handling from the Gardaí.
After Gardaí had removed the first sit down blockade, trucks approached the protesters on the bridge. A series of scuffles emerged as Gardaí moved protesters back in a very rough manner. During the scuffles at least two Shell to Sea campaigners were punched by police. A member of Rossport solidarity Camp was punched in the face by Sgt. Connor O’ Reilly and Maireád Corduff was punched in the chest by an unidentified garda. Once the trucks had been let past and Gardaí lines had again relaxed protesters simply moved down the road to meet the next truck and sat down again. At one point there were as many as three separate groups at various different points with blockades bypassing lines of guards by running out over the bog. At one point Shell to Sea activist Maura Harrington parked her car on the road to block trucks. After refusing to move, a garda broke off the key in the ignition and towed away on behalf of Shell and the Gardaí by local businessman T.J. Carey, who remained stony faced to shouts of “shame!” and “traitor”.
At around 10am it became apparent that the last of the trucks had passed as Gardaí left the scene. Shell to Sea campaigners returned to the trailer for a cup of tea and a chat, where they plan to maintain a presence throughout the day. The resolve of protestors is only strengthening in the face of garda abuse. If Shell think they will succeed in forcing this project through, to endanger lives and plunder our resources then they have reckoned without the commitment of the Shell to Sea campaign to stop it. Pickets and blockades have been organised by regional Shell to Sea groups in Dublin, Cork, Derry, Limerick and Galway all last week and more are planned for the week to come. Despite the efforts of Shell to pose this as being solely a regional issue, the facilitation of oil multinationals by the Irish state is something that affects more than just residents of Mayo. The mismanagement of natural resources by successive governments has resulted in a situation where the oil companies are selling back to people what is theirs. Instead of the Corrib gas being used to benefit Irish residents by funding healthcare or education, or helping to wean the country off fossil fuels, it will only be used to make profit for the “Corrib partners” and their government stooges.