This weekend saw the annual Ken Saro Wiwa memorial weekend being held in Erris, Co Mayo. This was the 14th such memorial weekend, and is held in memory of the Ogoni leader who was hung along with 8 other men because of their opposition to Shell. The weekend was organised as Sr Majella McCarron, who told the assembled crowd during the weekend of how she had worked closely with Saro Wiwa for 18 months while she was in Ogoniland and continued to communicate with him up until the time he was detained and subsequently hung.
The weekend started on Thursday evening in Kilcommon Lodge with readings of a selection of Ken Saro Wiwa’s detention poetry. Eight poems were read out including one by Fritz Shultz who along with Betty own Kilcommon Lodge. Fritz spoke movingly about how as a young boy he saw the mayor of his village being hung by the Nazi’s in the dying days of World War 2, after the mayor refused to order the town to be defended from the Allies. Fritz also said he had been think about whether he had the right to read out the words of Ken Saro Wiwa but felt it was important to keep the words of this great man alive. The poetry was followed by a review by Ed Moran of a book “Eclipse” by Richard North Patterson, which although a work of fiction is strongly based on the life and death of Ken Saro Wiwa and his opposition to Shell.
On Friday evening, proceeding moved to Inver Community Centre and a video presenting the militarization of the Niger Delta. The video showed the effects that the oil pollution and gas flaring had had on the Niger Delta leaving whole areas of both land and sea heavily polluted and devoid of wildlife. Also it showed the armed gangs that now bunkered off oil from pipelines and the resulting military crackdown on these armed gangs. Sr Majella stated that during her time there had been no armed gangs or bunkering and that it illustrated how things can deteriorate if left problems are left to fester and continue. After this Fr. Frank Nally gave a talk on mining in the Philippines. He spoke on how the government of the Philippines have the mining of minerals as a priority and so allow the mining companies exploit the lands of indigenous groups. Although there is a law that says that indigenous people must agree to how there land is used that this is bypassed by a mix of bribery and trickery. Fr Nally spoke on extra-judical killings that are taking place in the Philippines every year and that these have increased in the run up to elections that are due to take place next year.
Saturday’s proceedings were entitled “The Vindication: Its Consequences” and was chaired by Joe Murray from Afri. Afri have done trojan work on the issue of the Corrib project and Joe Murray told how Afri first got involved on the Corrib issue through Ogoni and their support of the ogoni struggle against Shell. The first talk of the day was on UN Human Rights Law and Treaties given by Cathal Doyle and Eve Tessera and how they could be used by campaigners to protect their human rights in dealings with Shell, Gardaí and the Irish state.
The second session was led by journalist Michael McCaughan (see http://www.corribgas.net for a selection of his writing), who gave an interesting and entertaining overview of the state of the country and this project. He commented that on hearing Michael O’Leary recently speak on RTE at length on what we need to do to get out of the recession he was left wondering “Who is the real face of Ireland, Michael O’Leary or Willie Corduff?”.
He also spoke on the recent Murphy report into Church abuse and similarities he saw of the contact that the Church had with the Gardaí and the contact that the Gardaí seem to have with Shell in north-west mayo. He quoted from articles on the abuse report which spoke of “inappropriate contact”, “shocking connivance”, “failure to investigate” and a “deference” that the State agencies had to the dealings of the Church.
Michael McGaughan finished off by speaking on what he called the “momentous night of the Townhall meeting” which took place also in Inver hall on the night of the 24th May with Ministers Ryan and O’Cuiv. He said it was momentous for him because it contrasted with the usual deference that is given to Ministers. He said that the Ministers’ had arrived to offer nothing and to “insult the intelligence” of the local people but that the local people had articulated the 10 years of abandonment and frustration they had felt by the State agencies. There then followed an open discussion on the recent board pleanala ruling and where we go from here. During this discussion Maura Harrington spoke on how Shell are continuing to try to snake their way into the community and area by bribing people. She spoke of how at a meeting of Erris Tourism she had found out that the newly advertised jobs of Tourism Manager and Sales executive for Erris Tourism would in fact be paid for by Shell.
During the discussion there was general agreement that while a temporary victory had been won, Shell would be working doubly hard behind the scenes to pressure the State agencies to support them in their future plans.
After a short break, experienced Human Rights observer Benny McCabe spoke on his involvement both in Mayo and around the world. He gave a definition of torture which included dehabilitation, dependency, dread and dis-orentation and stated that torture doesn’t just happen in dark dudgeons and that many of the symptoms could be said to exist here. He said that he saw that there was an archetypal dimension to this struggle that could be describe as between the Light and the Dark. He said the Light was represented by local people such as Willie Corduff or Pat O’Donnell who respect what they have and want to protect it and the Dark can be represented by the men in the balaclavas who beat up Willie and sank Pat’s boat. He said it’s important for all of us to protect our right to dissent. Finally he gave advice on some ways on how protect against future human rights abuses including documenting as much as you can and videoing protests properly. It was decided to attempt to collate as many possible human rights issues as possible relating to the corrib protests.
Finally the evening was finished off by a reading from a work in progress by actor Donal O’Kelly called “Stuck in Erris” which follows the story of a security man who came to Erris to work with Shell. The section that was read was the initial section where the security man is arriving in Erris for the first time probably sometime around 1999 when local people were slightly curious about the project but not yet hostile. Overall the piece was brilliant and funny and was very well received by the crowd and it will be very interesting to see how it continues.
Sunday saw the final session which was a talk by Tara Smith of the Irish Centre of Human Rights in NUIG. The ICHR influenced by issues in Erris have recently published a paper on the Right to a Healthy Environment. She spoke on the different conventions and treaties that could be useful in helping to protect the human rights of the local people. She spoke on various cases relating to human rights that have been taken to both the UN and the European Court of Justice and their results.
Overall it was a great weekend with loads of discussion and brought a lot of focus on what needs to be done on the months ahead. It also started a discussion on the human rights abuses and what can be done to address these. It was decided to try to bring together as many incidents as possible. If you have an incident you would like to add to these please email it to email@example.com with as much information as you can. The form is available here: http://www.shelltosea.com/sites/default/files/casesheet...y.rtf
On the Budget day on the 9th December there will a Shell to Sea protest outside the Dáil from 10am to protest against the Great Oil & Gas giveaway at that time when savage cuts and taxes will be raised on everyone else. See here: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/94978
Finally just to make people aware that next week there is a special week of hearings in Belmullet District Court. Overall 23 people will be up in relation to charges to do with Corrib protests. Not all are hearings as some are just being introduced as the Gardaí attempt to keep up the selective targeting of some campaigners.
I’ll leave you with a poem from Ken Saro Wiwa that was read out on the Thursday night.
Keep Out of Prison
“Keep out of prison” he wrote
“Don’t get arrested anymore”
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison