More than 100 people protested outside Belmullet Garda station, Co. Mayo yesterday (Saturday, April 9th, 2011) to demand the immediate suspension of the Gardaí who recorded themselves talking about raping a woman in their custody and to demand an independent inquiry into policing of the Corrib Gas project.
Statements of support were read out by local women on behalf of the National Women's Council Ireland, Global Women's Strike and Sinn Féin Councillor Thérèse Ruane. In a statement, Susan McKay, director of the National Women's Council Ireland, said: "It is appalling to realise that there are Gardai whose attitude is such that they think it appropriate to joke about raping women. Rape is recognised in law as being second only to murder in terms of gravity. This disgraceful episode will undoubtedly discourage some women from coming forward."
Cllr Ruane's statement backed Shell to Sea's call for the immediate suspension of the Gardaí in question, pending investigation. She also called for the appointment of human rights observors to monitor the policing of the Corrib Gas project and for an independent inquiry into the conduct of both Gardaí and Shell's private security company IRMS in relation to the project.
Cllr Ruane said: "We stand in solidarity with you here today and we support the right of women everywhere to protest without fear of rape or violence. The recordings of threats of rape and deportation made by members of An Garda Síochána are truly shocking and deeply concerning. These comments seriously damage public confidence in the Gardaí who are responsible for investigating crimes of a sexual nature. Sinn Féin have been saying for a long time now that there are serious questions surrounding the policing of the Corrib Project."
The protest was called in support of all women and men who have been harassed, threatened and intimidated by Gardaí, especially in light of the recently documented comments about deportation and rape by Gardai who had just arrested two female Shell to Sea campaigners. This is not the first example of Garda intimidation and threats against campaigners in Erris. The recording is a glimpse of the reality of intimidation and violence that has dominated community life since Shell's arrival in Co. Mayo.
Local resident and Shell to Sea spokesperson Maura Harrington said: "Many of us here today have experienced physical and verbal abuse by the Gardai. This incident is just the tip of the iceberg, which is why we are calling for an international independent investigation into the whole debacle of Shell's Corrib Gas Project. It is unacceptable to just move the Gardai to Castlebar. They need to be immediately suspended."
"The past 11 years have seen repeated instances of physical and verbal assaults against campaigners. Some of these incidents were documented in the Frontline Report of 2010, which was a damning indictment of the collaboration between Gardaí and Shell's private security IRMS. However, despite this report and the 120 citizen complaints to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, there has been no change in the policing of the project. In 2007, the Minister for Justice refused to allow the Garda Ombudsman to undertake a review of the public policing aspects around Corrib."
A further protest will take place at 5pm on Wednesday 13th April in the Market Square in Castlebar.