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Heart of darkness at Royal Dutch Shell

The “Rossport Five” were jailed at the specific request of the company, which had obtained compulsory purchase orders for the land in question – the first time in Irish history that such an order was granted to a private company. The five will remain in jail until they undertake not to obstruct the company. (SHELL)

The company stinks worldwide…

By John Donovan

This article focuses on an informative parliamentary debate about the Corrib Gas controversy held in the Houses of the Oireachtas, the national parliament of Ireland, on 6 October 2005. It does not appear to have been reported in any detail at the time.

Some very forthright comments were expressed about Shell.

The debate was held after the release from prison of the Rossport Five, activist landowners jailed at the specific behest of Shell. The activists held legitimate concerns on behalf of their families about health, safety, and environmental implications of the Shell led Corrib Gas Project.

Extracts from a related Guardian article: Shell meets its match in the Rossport Five

Suddenly, the issue became one of the biggest news stories of the year and, as the Irish Examiner called it, “a major public relations disaster for the Shell corporation”. The “Rossport Five” were jailed at the specific request of the company, which had obtained compulsory purchase orders for the land in question – the first time in Irish history that such an order was granted to a private company. The five will remain in jail until they undertake not to obstruct the company.

“Shell officials misjudged the situation if they thought to intimidate others by making an example of these men,” the Irish Times said. Indeed, July has seen huge rallies in support of the men in Co Mayo and in Dublin, the picketing of Shell garages nationwide, and round-the-clock blockades of the refinery construction site.

Some of the exchanges in the parliamentary debate were even more damaging to Shell and proved to be prophetic in mentioning Shell’s use of security forces against protestors in Nigeria. No doubt wondering whether such intimidatory tactics by the multinational might be imported into Ireland.

The following extracts are from the official record:

Brief extracts from opening statement by Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher) Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher

It was a source of great regret to me that five Rossport men were committed to prison as a result of their opposition to the proposed pipeline.

The safety review of the on-shore, up-stream gas pipeline is now under way. It will be thorough and comprehensive and will be carried out by independent, internationally recognised experts.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane Zoom on Michael Finucane

I welcome the Minister of State’s statement which outlines the latest developments in regard to the Corrib onshore pipeline. Although it is quite a distance from Rossport, a public meeting on the issue was recently held in Newcastle West in County Limerick. The families of the Rossport men were represented and Dr. Mark Garavan, spokesman for the Shell to Sea campaign, spoke at length. It was an informative session and indicated how this issue has resonated with the public in that it seems a manifestation of the small man taking on a major multinational. Speakers at the meeting drew our attention to the unfavourable publicity for Shell some years ago in regard to its activities in the Ogoni region of Nigeria. It is ironic that the same company is involved in this controversy in which five people were imprisoned as a result of their stance on the proposed onshore pipeline. The action they took was a consequence of their genuine concerns.

Mr. Kenneally: Information on Brendan Kenneally Zoom on Brendan Kenneally

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to speak on this issue. When we look back on the imprisonment on those who have become known as the Rossport five we will view the matter with regret. It should not be necessary for five citizens of the State to go to prison for 94 days to vindicate what they perceive to be their rights. Regardless of the sequence of events and the legal niceties responsible for their three month stay in an Irish prison, it should not have happened here in this enlightened third millennium.

We can talk about principles and principled stands all day and discuss the relative claims for the safety of the installation and the power of multinational companies but who would favour a gas pipeline pumping unknown quantities of explosive material at unknown explosive pressure not much more than 100 yards from people’s homes? This was not just a blind protest on the part of disgruntled residents. Their arguments were logical. I cannot confirm that they were correct but they did raise reasonable doubts about safety and the appropriateness of the industry being there at all, such as the inadequacy of the soil through which the pipeline will run and several other arguments worth investigating.

I have evidence of a quantified risk assessment carried out on Shell’s behalf in Australia approximately five years ago in which there was a fundamental flaw in the design which was missed in the quantified risk assessment. Had the Government authorities in Australia not spotted the fundamental flaw an offshore rig would have been constructed and had an entirely predictable and [264]likely event happened hundreds of people could have been killed. A quantified risk assessment is done on the data supplied by the client, in this case by Shell, and it is not independent. If there is to be a safety review, it is desperately important that the first brief of the company must be to know whether this is inherently safe or whether there are margins of uncertainty because it is a unique project.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris

I listened to Senator Mansergh’s contribution with great interest and in response to his last comment I would say that Shell really needs to revise its entire ethos and modus operandi. The company stinks worldwide, but we were not sufficiently aware of this fact and we have let them away with potential murder in this country. If, as Senator Mansergh also said, international business will look at what is happening here, then let them look. Let them see that Irish people and the Government have standards. It seems extraordinary that five decent, respectable people in the community were sent to jail at the instigation of Shell Oil. These men did not have to go to jail but they were pushed into that position by the company. It also seems extraordinary that they were jailed while trying to defend their own homes, welfare and possibly even their lives, which should be a constitutional imperative.

Should we feel secure because Shell is involved? I do not think so. If we look at the company’s track record internationally, we can see it is good at spin. It bought into things like National Geographic and it sponsors environmental programmes on television, while simultaneously destroying the environment in places such as Nigeria. Its modus operandi although subtly changed from Nigeria is in essence precisely the same and reveals a complete contempt for local people as long as it can get the Government on its side and its PR merchants in with the spin.

Let us consider the record in Nigeria. Shell Oil was complicit in the fact that the Nigerian Government hanged nine environmentalists for protesting peacefully in 1995. The tribunal that convicted the men was a joint effort between Shell and the Nigerian Government. These people protested because of the enormous amounts of oil spillage in their territory against which they were totally unprotected. Between 1976 and 1991 some 2,976 oil spills occurred in the Niger delta. A World Bank investigation found that the levels of hydrocarbon pollution in Ogoniland were more than 60 times the US limits. This was confirmed in 1997 by a Project Underground survey which found petroleum hydrocarbons in one Ogoni village’s water source at 360 times the limit set for the European Community. This is the respect for the environment that Shell Oil has in Nigeria.

Let us consider how Shell copes with this situation. In Nigeria as in Ireland there is a rebellious local population. Shell uses the local existing institutions to hand. In Ireland there is a complacent Government and requirements are placed on judges to make certain decisions. I do not criticise the Judiciary in that it is working with what it has. Shell contributes to the military funding in the areas where it needs to suppress the people. Shell has admitted that it has paid directly for visits to two villages in Ogoniland. These visits were as a result of a peaceful demonstration by the local inhabitants. It has also admitted purchasing weapons for the local police force which guards its facilities. Many people believe that Shell’s [268]involvement in the military aspect is much greater.

Bearing in mind that the police are partly funded by Shell Oil, a classified memorandum from a police leader in this area described his plans for “psychological tactics of displacement-wasting”. This is what Shell is doing in the west of Ireland; it is displacing the people. The memorandum further stated: “Shell operations are still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken.” It is prepared to be ruthless militarily and it is prepared to be ruthless in its involvement in the courts. Let us consider what it did in the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa. We now know that two significant witnesses in that case were suborned by Shell with offers of money and employment in the Shell group.

I am not just some left-wing crank talking about this matter. The United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report on Nigeria published in 1998 accused both Nigeria and Shell of abusing human rights and failing to protect the environment. It condemned Shell for a “well armed security force which is intermittently employed against protestors”. This is what we are dealing with. This is the heart of darkness.

Mr. Kitt:

We should listen again to what people are saying. I hope that Shell will explain some of the issues which it is not explaining. Senator Norris made an important point regarding Shell’s involvement in Nigeria. In 1985 I was a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. We intended to visit Nigeria with a Trócaire delegation to visit the Ogoni region, but the Nigerian Government prevented us from going there, or even into Nigeria, because of our wish to go to the Ogoni region. There was no support from Shell, which I found very disappointing. While one cannot blame Shell for all the problems in the Ogoni region, the company has a case to answer with regard to environmental matters. That is one of the reasons the people in Rossport were so concerned that the pipe was coming through their area, very close to houses. They were worried about health, safety and environmental issues and knew that Shell did not have a very good track record in those areas.

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