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Shell to Sea protestors occupy and shut down Bellanaboy refinery site
News report from inside the fences
Work at the controversial Bellanaboy refinery site was halted on Friday the 16th February for the first time since October 3rd 2006 by a breakaway march of roughly 150 militant protestors.
Crossing the bog
The breakaway began as protestors, many of whom had traveled through the night and taken days off work to be there, left a larger Shell to Sea day of support demonstration at the main gates of the refinery. Protestors ran across bogs and passed barbed wire fences before marching for 20 minutes alongside Shell’s unlaid pipeline to reach the construction site where they surrounded Shell’s construction vehicles.
Gardai and workers were completely shocked to find that the group had managed to march straight into the center of the compound; workers were immediately called off site stopping work for the first time in almost 5 months. Protestors chanted “workers, workers, join with us”, which met with amused laughter from the workers who gathered less than 10 metres from the group, enjoying their break. In a deal with local campaign members the workers had been bussed onto site at 6.00am that morning to avoid the 7.30am demonstration.
The crowd of 150 protestors consisted principally of people from Dublin, Cork and Belfast with roughly 20 locals joining them. John Monaghan, a local resident, addressed the crowd several times urging them to remain peaceful and to stick together. Monaghan also acted as negotiator for the group when a group of 100 gardai blocked them from marching out the main gate.
Roughly 100 gardai, with 50 on standby in a bus, surrounded the protestors and allowed them to march peacefully off the site following a short stand-off. A crowd of 50 protestors gathered outside the gate to meet those coming off the site. Once outside, gardai began aggressively shoving the jubilant protestors off the road a move which many people described as a desperate attempt to re-assert their authority.
The days’ main protest enjoyed a crowd of roughly 500 people who marched from Glenamoy Bridge at 7.30am to the gates of the site. Local campaigners acted as stewards ensuring the march did not disrupt the flow of traffic or block the site, in keeping with a deal struck with Shell and the gardai. Protestors were prevented from banging on the gates of the site and some even complained of being pushed and shouted at by stewards who they claimed “were acting just like the gardai”.
Shell spokesman John Egan claimed that the “trespassers” had vandalized tools and threatened workers. He went on to say that the protestors had breached a promise that the day’s protests would be peaceful and non-confrontational. Julia Doherty, a protestor involved in the mass-trespass, refutes Mr. Egan’s claims stating that “Some people shouted ‘scab’ and ‘blackleg’ at the workers but there was no serious malice expressed towards them, as for his claim that tools were vandalized – surely he should be able to produce some evidence?”
Crowds dispersed for tea and soup at roughly noon with high spirits on the part of the protestors and much ire from gardai, who had previously enjoyed almost total control over the protests in Mayo. The campaign now faces important discussions on how to progress from their minor victory with divisions already coming to the fore as local TD Gerry Cowley condemned the occupation of the site in the national media. With a large national demonstration planned for February 24th in Dublin the Shell to Sea campaign is finally back on the offensive.
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