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Eye-witness report from Bellanaboy

category mayo | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Tuesday November 14, 2006 19:03author by Eye-witness Report this post to the editors

Welcome to the irish Police State

This report briefly explains what happened at Bellanaboy on the anniversary of the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa - with a few comments on the whole issue from the observer's point of view and a few pictures.
A mean-looking subversive wields a dangerous poster in an obviously threatening manner
A mean-looking subversive wields a dangerous poster in an obviously threatening manner

As a supporter of friends in Erris who are part of the Shelltosea campaign, I went along last Friday to help the great multi-national Shell corporation to save time, effort and, most importantly, money by pointing out to them that Bellanaboy is not a suitable place for a refinery – for a number of very good reasons. Apparently the government do not share this view – they helped Shell get the site cheap from semi-state forestry company Coillte and they have built Shell a nice new road from Bangor to Bellanaboy and improved other roads through Mayo. They decided that there was no point in asking local people what they thought about having a high-pressure gas pipeline and accompanying toxic waste pipeline running past their front doors – those who did find out the truth and questioned it were simply jailed to help them understand that they ought to put up or shut up. Bellanaboy was a cheap option whereby only a couple of village communities need be destroyed and just a few hundred lives put at risk.

Shell are well known for their care for people and the environment and have only been responsible for a relatively small number of murders and only a few thousand hectares of environmental destruction. They are often represented at important meetings and dinners in places like Manchester and they give generous support to well-meaning politicians and always use recycled brown envelopes.

The government think it is important to get the refinery built as quickly as possible – even though the planning approval is not yet complete regarding a number of technical aspects, including cold venting of the gas, for which an environmental impact statement has yet to be produced and an E.P.A. licence has yet to be granted. There are also legal aspects with on-going court proceedings and probable infringements of the EU Habitats Directive.

So, there we were at Bellanaboy last Friday with all roads blocked by lines of gardai, except for access of Shell vehicles. The quiet crowd of peaceful protestors were mostly locals including OAPs, mothers and their children exercising their right to free speech and use of the public highway as they attempted to picket the refinery site and put over their message to Shell that there is a better way and place to bring in the gas.

Then Maura Harrington, a 53 year-old local school teacher and mother of four, drove her car up to the garda line and switched off the engine, indicating that she would like to be allowed to continue along this public road. Someone started pushing the car forward at a dangerous speed approaching one mile per hour and the gardai, not having been properly trained in dealing with such a situation, panicked. Some drew their batons and started beating car and nearby people and others started pushing, kicking and punching any protestor within reach. I witnessed a pensioner being thrown to the ground and stomped upon – possibly he was thought to be a dangerous subversive. On being helped by friends to his feet, he raised a blood covered hand towards the gard with the video camera saying in a plaintiff voice “get this on film – your handiwork”. This was the only occasion that I saw anyone raise so much as a finger towards the gards who quite simply behaved like an ill-disciplined bunch of thugs. Not all of them – some were only trying to obey orders and hold back the crowd – their’s not to reason why – fair play to a local woman who berated them saying that they should be ashamed – they are supposed to be protecting the local community from the criminals, not vice-versa !

Fine Fail honorary spokesperson Enda Kenny claims that a number of Sinn Fein members were agitating the protestors – I would like to state a counter-claim that a number of Fine Fail members amongst the garda ranks were goading them into unnecessary violent action. Mr Kenny thinks that the government were right to use force against these hard-line peaceful protestors and they will definitely get his vote at election time !

Bertie Ahern says that the time for negotiation is over – not a problem for Shelltosea supporters since, as luck would have it, negotiation has never actually begun. Bring on the riot squad ! These people need a good beating to knock that peaceful community-spirit nonsense out of them.

What needs to be realised now - by everyone - is that police forces throughout the world act in similar fashion - they love to use force if their government bosses say it's OK. Also local communities throughout the world object to being trodden roughshod by governments that think they can impose their will without fair consultation - they will not be beaten into submission. The government is supposed to represent the people of the country - not the worldwide shareholders of multi-national corporations - the only way forward is consultation and negotiation to find a compromise solution that allows the gas to be brought ashore with minimum damage to the community and environment. Of course, even a refinery at sea will cause environmental damage and some disruption of coastal communities, but, if we must have the gas we will have to put up with this. This is the compromise solution proposed by Shelltosea supporters who have made it clear time and again that they are prepared to discuss options. So the choice is now in the already blooded hands of the Taoiseach - negotiation or more blood ? Sad to have to wonder if he might just be foolish enough to make the wrong choice.

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Shell's cops (kindly provided by Bertie) deal calmly and professionally with this daunting 53 yr old school mistress being pushed along at close to one mph
Shell's cops (kindly provided by Bertie) deal calmly and professionally with this daunting 53 yr old school mistress being pushed along at close to one mph

This protesting gardening enthusiast received a thumping at the hands of gardai - he was probably sowing the seeds of discontent !
This protesting gardening enthusiast received a thumping at the hands of gardai - he was probably sowing the seeds of discontent !

Neolithic action near neolithic site
Neolithic action near neolithic site

author by the way.publication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 13:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Enda Kenny, Honorary Spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, yes indeed.

Complicit in the brutalisation of his own constituents. What a traitor.

author by Johnpublication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 19:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

All the pictures in all the threads have one thing in common. They show nothing. But all have comments attached claiming that the pictures show brutality by the gardai. In the second last picture (of the 'gardening enthusiast') the attached comment alleges that the 'gardening enthusiast received a thumping from the gardai'. But, in the picture the gardai are merely seen to be holding the man by the arm, and not very tightly. So, why didn't the photograper take pictures of the alleged thumping? I'll tell you why. Its because there was none.

author by Sarah - nonepublication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 20:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

well John -i've a reason why I dont have a picture of three of our nations finest on top of a middle aged man from galway beating him with their fists and batons on the shell highway at about eight last friday, and on top of another local man outside the bangor quarry doing -you've guessed it fists and batons for shell again.
Just as I heard the satisfiying click of the camera on my phone there was the sound of a big boggers boot hitting my Phone and my fingers- yep a garda kicked it out of my hand and it fell into the waterlogged ditch and its not the same since-thankfully my fingers are on the mend.

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author by Joepublication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 22:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I've had cameras at a few events where the gardai started wading in. Here is why it is difficult to get those magic pictures

1. Fear - turns out when men with sticks are swinging at you its quite hard to get it together to restrict your view by sticking a camera in front of your eyes and peering through the viewfinder.
2. Adrenalin - At such moments your body floods you system with all sorts of fancy chemicals evolved to aid in either fight or flight but quite counterproductive for calmly standing there and lining up the shot
3. Speed - its not like your getting your granny to smile for a photo. By definition violence tends to be fast, its very easy to miss the moment.
4. Placing - often your in the wrong spot - not helped as Gardai not being completely stupid will be aware of where the cameras are and smart enough to go for the low kicks and the blow hidden behind a turned body.
5. Obstruction - likewise their colleagues will place themselves between you and the action
6. Smashy, smashy - at least two people on this thread have said Gardai delibretly smashed the cameras out of their hands. This has happened to me as well.
7. Arrest - it is not unheard of for photographers to be arrested, their film confiscated to appear only long after the events are newsworthy.

So basically unless you are very lucky you end up with the shots like what we see here. Shots taken from a bit of a distance that show something happened without being able to prove what that something is. With experience you get better shots, in part because you get better at controlling your reactons but mostly because you learn to position yourself at a point where with the aid of a zoom you may get the shot but will be out of range of the baton.

Of course John I realise as an ideological fan of neo liberalism your question was not genuine. But I'm sure others are wondering.

author by John's motherpublication date Thu Nov 16, 2006 12:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Now son, why am I not surprised? That nice man Joe gave a detailed reply to your question, but you haven't bothered to answer any of his points. Not one! I mean, were you asking an honest question at all! Instead, you come out with another childish remark. You're shaming me, and you used to be such a nice boy

author by Eye-witness - Shelltoseapublication date Mon Nov 20, 2006 13:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have yet to see any photos of protestors being violent towards cops. Anyway, the point now is that unnecessary violence has occurred and neither the Shelltosea organisation nor the Irish people want to see any more of it. Only the government and the gards seem happy with the use of force to try and stop peaceful protest.

After the Piper Alpha disaster, how can anyone contemplate putting a similar high-pressure gas pipeline through a residential and environmentally sensitive area ? It is simply unacceptable. Shell can easily afford to build their refinery at sea, minimising risks to population and environment - it is up to the government to tell them. No doubt they are reluctant to do so because it goes against the under-the-table deals already done - that is the only conclusion that we can come to - Shell owns Fiana Fail.

Manhandled - nobody is allowed to get in the way of Shell
Manhandled - nobody is allowed to get in the way of Shell

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author by katiem - NONE!!!publication date Sun Dec 03, 2006 22:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know that police brutality does happen, but honestly, lets not get carried away. We've all seen the pictures from Bellanaboy and if anyone of the ordinary citizens from around the area did the same thing on Main St., on a Saturday night, we would be carted away. Which is just what the hardliners want, to make martrys of them, but the powers that be are wise to this. What gives anyone the right to blockade men and women trying to earn a living. More power to them for going to work each morning and putting up with the abuse hurled at them.
The original protestors were perfectly within their rights to protest, and to keep doing so, but I think the fact that they have been hijacked by the tree huggers and left wingers has let them and the whole area down. While I'm sure there are genuine supporters joining from outside the area, I'm also sure that there are just as many professional protestors, who dont care what the cause is, they just have to be in the thick of it.
At the end of the day, whether or not we as a country were sold down the river with regard to the gas rights, the guards have a duty to uphold public order, and that is what they are doing. How they do this is dictated by the way the protestors decide to act. A peaceful protest at the side of the road is one thing, blockading a site and preventing people from going to work is another.
What would Ghandi say?

author by tree hugger and left wingerpublication date Sun Dec 03, 2006 23:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Gandhi himself was beaten off the road, and at Amritsar the protesters were shot, and you know what? People at that time tried to to excuse these actions by making arguments very similiar to yours.

If they were building a nuclear power station at Bellanaboy would it be okay to blockade the truck? Or would you be on here saying the workers had a right to work?

Perhaps you would be here defending a Carnsore, maybe you'd even defend the woorkers if they were building a concentration camp, but presumably you have a point where even you would stand up and protest.

The defenders of Bellanaboy just have a more developed sense of justice than you, and they will, I hope, protest in the most effective way they can, and not be put off by ppeoople who are prespared to live on their knees.

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