By: Conor Lally, Irish Times
Published: Nov 30, 2006
The senior Garda officer in charge of policing the protest at Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline has said some protesters had established checkpoints on roadways in parts of Mayo at which they “interrogated” local people for up to 45 minutes before refusing passage to some.
Supt Joe Gannon also said gardaI have been assaulted by protesters and filmed on cameras while they have been out socialising with friends and family.
A “co-ordinated campaign of intimidation” had in many cases been directed at people with no involvement in the Shell project.
In an interview with Garda Review, the Garda Representative Association’s magazine, he said that a number of investigations were under way into some cases of assault and intimidation.
Supt Gannon, the district officer for Belmullet, said he was confident the protesters had been “stood down”. “It is a cat-and-mouse game; they adopt guerrilla-type tactics and they are watching to see when I will stand down resources.”
Policing at the protest last month took a controversial turn when protesters were baton- charged. However, Supt Gannon said the protest had been a serious one for a long time.
“The [ site] entrance 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 that situation that the current operation was born.
“Down around Rossport as well there were jeeps – either Shell jeeps or innocent people going about their business – that would be surrounded by these locals and their cars and questioned for anything up to three-quarters of an hour.”
One man was cornered in his vehicle with his four-year-old son after some protesters mistakenly believed he was working for Shell. He was “interrogated” for 45 minutes, during which time his son was “traumatised”. The victim filmed some of the incident on his mobile phone. Four people have been arrested and a file is being prepared for the DPP.
Some 150 gardaI were drafted in from around the country. A Garda protest removal team was established, with members undergoing training on the removal of people obstructing roadways. A tactical adviser was assigned and the Garda press office sent a representative.
The team was in place for October 3rd, when work on the project restarted and the physical confrontations began.Supt Gannon said while the protest had been “fairly rough on [ some] days” arrests had only taken place on one day.
On that occasion, he said: “One of the central figures in the protest – not one of the Rossport Five – bonded scrum-like with his son and his son’s friends and propelled the two lads forward into a sergeant who was distracted.”
He said the sergeant in question was caught by surprise and was “rammed” into a “deep drain”, breaking his thumb and sustaining ligament damage.
Two other officers were assaulted in a follow-up scuffle.
He added the assault on the sergeant was filmed on a garda camera leading to the arrest of three people and preparation of a file for the DPP. He said outside influences such as “eco warriors” had also used cameras “trying to agitate and get a reaction”. This filming had continued when gardaI were off duty.
A lot of intimidation locally had gone unreported, he added.