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Focus: D-Day: the Mayo landing

THE SUNDAY TIMES

5 July 2009

Some hardline Shell to Sea protesters are preparing for a final conflict over the Mayo gas pipeline

Mark Tighe

A mist hung over Broadhaven Bay last Wednesday as Paul Lynch, a member of the Rossport Solidarity Camp, looked wistfully at the distant outline of Solitaire, a giant pipe-laying vessel.

“We were so close, we just got our tactics wrong,” he said.

The 27-year-old from Cork was one of five Shell to Sea protesters who launched kayaks from a boat belonging to Pat O’Donnell, a local fisherman and protester-in-chief, in an attempt to intercept and damage the Solitaire before it entered the bay.

“If we’d launched separately, around the Solitaire, we could have encircled it. Instead we launched all together and it was able to steam away from us,” said Lynch. “It was our best chance. They weren’t expecting us and there was barely any security around.”

The protesters are opposed to a gas pipeline being run through Rossport and the construction of a refinery at Bellanaboy, to process gas from the Corrib field, arguing that the gas should be refined at sea.

Lynch, thin, bearded and an unemployed mechanical engineer, is giving a guided tour of the protesters’ camp beside Glengad beach. He is about to demonstrate the tripod, their latest weapon of mass obstruction. But suddenly he excuses himself for a call of nature. Rather than use the nearby compost toilet, Lynch ambles to the edge of the field overlooking the beach. A hundred metres away is a Shell security boat with a fluorescently attired crew who get a full view of the peeing protester.

The threat from Lynch and the camp to the security team was reduced significantly at 8.50pm last Sunday. That was when a powerful winch on Glengad beach finally pulled the Corrib gas pipeline ashore. It now lies in a three-metre deep trench on the beach. The Solitaire is welding and laying the rest of the line on the seabed, on a 83km journey to the Corrib gasfield.

“When the winch was pulling the pipeline ashore the concern was that any interference could have caused the steel line to snap,” said Willie Walsh, the safety officer for Roadbridge, which is in charge of the works at Glengad. “Because of the tension that cable was under, that would have been very dangerous. There is a lot of relief to have that phase completed.”

Shell appears to have won the sea campaign in this long-running war to bring gas ashore in Mayo. All that remains is the land battle.

In the tense build-up to the sea battle, there were two bizarre incidents involving two of the most prominent members of “the movement”. In April, Willie Corduff, one of a group of protesters known as the Rossport Five, who were sent to jail, alleged that he was beaten by Shell security staff. IRMS, the company which patrols the Glengad site, was already reviled by protesters as “violent mercenaries”.

The enmity deepened when it emerged that Michael Dwyer and eastern Europeans who had worked for IRMS at Glengad were involved in an alleged assassination plot in Bolivia.

When O’Donnell claimed that the Iona Isle, one of his boats, had been sunk by four masked men with guns who spoke in “broken English”, IRMS was blamed.

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