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The Sunday Times: Protester too ill for court turns up at Shell AGM

The Sunday Times May 21, 2006

Protester too ill for court turns up at Shell AGM

Aine Ryan

AN anti-Shell protester who was too stressed to attend a court case in Mayo last Monday had recovered in time to attend Shell’s annual meeting in London the following day.

Galway district court was told that Maura Harrington, 54, could not attend to face charges of drunkenness and being a danger to herself and others due to stress and anxiety. A judge adjourned the case to July.

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Within 24 hours, Harrington, one of the leaders of the campaign against Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline, was being shadowed by two uniformed policemen and a security guard as she attended the company’s annual meeting at the Novotel hotel in Hammersmith.

“Having had some rest, I will be in a position to attend the court hearing in July,” the primary school teacher said yesterday. “The fact that I attended the Shell meeting in London the following day has nothing to do with my non-appearance in court. I was, and still am, very distressed about the case. I won’t be skipping the country.”

The charges against her are that she was intoxicated and a danger to herself and others at Quay Street, Galway, on April 21. She is also accused of failing to give her name and address to a garda when asked, and refusing to leave the area when directed by a garda.

Judge Mary Fahy was given a doctor’s letter in court last week and told that Harrington’s husband wanted to have the matter adjourned because his wife was suffering from stress and anxiety brought about by her pending court appearance.

The next day Harrington was being prevented from distributing Rossport Solidarity group leaflets at Shell’s annual meeting. Hotel management told the campaigner she had to have permission to do so. “For a tiny wisp of a thing — I’m 5ft — I received a disproportionate amount of attention last Tuesday,” she said.

Harrington addressed last year’s Shell annual meeting at The Hague, telling shareholders about the “bully-boy actions of their directors in north Mayo”.

She didn’t get an opportunity to repeat her charges this year, having been named as a proxy by a shareholder from the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR). She said she wasn’t surprised when the Lloyd’s-registered proxy vote went missing and she was demoted to guest status.

ECCR’s members include the Church of England, the Christian Aid charity and other churches. The group is unhappy with Shell’s operations in Mayo, the Niger Delta in west Africa, and the Russian island of Sakhalin, accusing the corporation of failing to consult adequately with locals on projects.

The council tabled a motion at last week’s annual meeting calling on Shell to collaborate with local people before work on projects begins and to use independent social and environmental impact assessments. The board asked shareholders to reject the resolution, saying the demands “are adequately addressed through existing company practices and policies”. The motion was defeated.

Mediation between Shell and the Rossport Five has now resumed in an effort to achieve a way around locals’ objection to the gas pipeline going across their land. Peter Cassells, the former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, recently met the five men who were jailed for 94 days last year over their opposition to the pipeline.

Harrington’s campaign against Shell landed her in trouble with gardai in Castlebar last summer when she and other protesters refused to leave the Fine Gael leader’s offices. Enda Kenny called gardai after some members of the group, which included Jerry Cowley, an independent TD, allegedly verbally abused his staff. After an eight-hour protest gardai ejected the group.

Some weeks later at a meeting of Mayo county council, Harrington approached its chairman, Henry Kenny, the Fine Gael leader’s brother, and another exchange ensued.

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