“The important thing is that since the first day that we broke the barricade and secured the entrance, the workers have been going in and out. We haven’t altered any time schedules or anything else because the message that I want to send out is that I am in charge now. They are not. For the want of better words they have been ‘stood down’.”
- Superintendent Joe Gannon, Belmullet Station.
Neil Ward’s front page feature article in Garda Review, the magazine of the Garda Representative Association, draws heavily on an interview with Superintendent Joe Gannon to outline the Garda view on the protests at Ballinaboy. In the article, entitled Reclaiming the Streets, Gannon defines the problem as: “The entrance to the site was blocked for a year and a half. Local people had a veto on who went in and out of the site: it was out of this situation that the current operation was born.”
Contrary to the wild claims by newspapers such as the Sunday World , there is no mention of the fact that the I.R.A. are in control of the protests. This is despite the fact that a Sunday World article of December 3rd “Rossport Campaign of Terror” draws on the Garda Review feature and maintains that it supports that paper’s earlier claims.
According to Garda Review, “More often than not Gardai would have to be called” to the scene of confrontations at the Rossport compound. In fact Gardai were very, very rarely called there; there were two or three incidents in the autumn of 2006 when Gardai were at the Rossport compound.
The article deals with events on September 26th - when the convoy of Shell workers were turned away , and says that in its wake the Garda’s Protest Removal Group “which had expert training to deal with people who were obstructing the roadway - and a tactical advisor were called in.”
As well as towing equipment, catering facilities, a Garda Press Office representative, and not to mention the 150 Gardai from outside the district. However, it later says that the Protest Removal Group was under the supervision of Sergeant Connor O’Reilly who it says was also the tactical advisor and he was present on September 26th - as the pictures in the article linked to above show. Perhaps the Protest Removal Group are the particularly aggressive policemen often accompanying O’Reilly.
October 3rd Protest
The article goes on to deal at length with the events of the 3rd of October saying that: “Gardai were aware that the protesters knew that something was imminent”. Gannon reveals that his plans to block off the Ballinaboy site at 3 a.m. on the morning of October the 3rd were frustrated by the fact protesters had begun to gather before midnight. “We planned to have a traffic cordon around the area, there are three main junctions where we would put up barriers and have static security. At 11 p.m. we had word that they (the protesters) had already congregated down there with their vehicles: that scuppered my initial plans.”
Gannon then details how, starting at 5 a.m., they removed vehicles with a tractor and people with the Protest Removal Group plus “teams of lifters who had been trained over the preceding days.” until “the protesters were in the corral flanked by Gardai.”
Don't Arrest - Just Assault
Gannon clearly states that there is a no arrest policy: “There were no arrests. That was part of our strategy: we did not want to facilitate anyone down there with a route to martyrdom. That has been the policy ever since.” The companion of the no arrest policy has been the assault policy. Some examples of which are documented here and here.
Many other instances have occurred away from the glare of days of action. The police have also threatened specific individuals. Gannon goes on to say of the constant police filming that: “it is evidence gathering: it is the sole reason” (according to the article that is 3 to 4 hours of footage per day). One wonders how ‘evidence gathering’ got married to a 'no arrest policy’. In regard to police filming Gannon defensively cites that fact some protesters have cameras saying: “Indymedia have been down there from day one.”
He is quite upset with this, saying: “it is always part of their operation to have a camera in your face - trying to agitate and get a reaction.” On the ground this is reflected in police behaviour which has included the seizure and destruction of cameras, and an assault upon an independent film maker plus seizure of his footage. This is something we have seen at other protests, such as in Shannon where one person was charged with ‘intimidating and threatening behaviour’ which translated, in the form of the court room evidence of the arresting officer, means taking photos, likewise one film maker was injuncted off Aer Rianta property. Of course far graver instances of state repression are seen elsewhere in the world, like the recent murder by pro-state paramilitaries of an Indymedia volunteer in Mexico.
Reclaim the Streets?
The ‘Reclaiming the Streets’ headline demonstrates just why they don’t like being filmed - they don’t like being found out as they memorably were in May 2002.
A perennial part of police strategy in dealing with public protest is finding someone to negotiate with. This was even the case with R.U.C. policing of civil rights demonstrations in the North in the late 60s. Garda Review reveals that this has been a problem in Ballinaboy. An unnamed ‘member’ says: “Protesters are organised to a certain level, but are leaderless and there is no command structure: which makes it hard to negotiate with them.” While Garda Gerry Burke says: “They are totally leaderless and there is no one to reason with.”
When it comes to the camp the discourse of good demonstrator and bad demonstrator breaks down into the ridiculous: “Members in the station have also noticed that the protesters are a mixture of local people and some genuine environmentalists up there, some Irish based and others over from the UK. Some stayed on a camp in Rossport throughout the winter and they are regarded as the ‘genuine environmentalists’. There are other ‘eco-warriors’ described as ‘rent-a-crowd’ and they are an unknown entity to the members in the Belumullet district.”
Extensive research has revealed that this ‘unknown entity’ is another camp, located on a secret island in Broadhaven bay, and staffed with communist alien stormtroopers from the planet bollox.