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Irish Times: Garda withdraws ‘public order unit’ at Corrib gas terminal

By: Lorna Siggins and Tom Shiel, Irish Times
Published: Oct 06, 2006

The Garda says it has withdrawn its “public order unit” from north Mayo and has scaled down numbers deployed in and around the Shell Corrib gas terminal.

A force of 170 has been cut to 110, according to gardaI, and road-blocks were not in place on approach roads yesterday morning – the third day of a peaceful protest by some 240 people as Shell staff arrived for work on the terminal site.

However, Garda spokesman Insp Ray McHugh has denied reports that several staff had put in personal requests to be taken off duties in the area, and has said that no such requests would be entertained in any case.

“Every garda detailed for Bellanaboy has turned up for duty,” he told The Irish Times. Of the 170 on duty early this week, some 20 were from the locality, he confirmed.

The public order unit – unofficially known as the riot squad – was never deployed on the ground, Insp McHugh said. However, a small number of trained members were available “offsite” on the first day only of Shell staff returning to work this week, he said. This was in the “unlikely event that they were needed”.

“We are delighted that there have been no arrests, no incidents,” he said, and the force was “very anxious to work with the local community and facilitate a lawful, peaceful protest” while also allowing people to exercise their legal right to go to their place of employment.

Insp McHugh said he could not comment on reported injuries sustained by one protester earlier in the week.

However, gardaI were very happy with the way the operation had been handled, and protesters had put up no resistance when carried behind barriers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley (Ind), who attended yesterday’s dawn protest at the terminal gates in heavy rain, said he believed that the scaled-down security operation and the arrival of RTE Prime Time television cameras was “more than coincidental”.

“However, we are not blaming the gardaI, we are blaming those who gave them the orders to be up here,” he said.

“It is ludicrous to think of several hundred gardaI up here to suppress a peaceful protest against a project that is going nowhere, when Moyross in Limerick only got five extra gardaI this week.”

Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport five, told protesters that their demonstration would continue daily and all actions would be peaceful and law abiding.

Meanwhile, an expert group attached to Engineers Ireland has endorsed the Advantica safety review of the Corrib gas onshore pipeline published earlier this year by Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey. The group has called for one of the report’s main recommendations to be implemented in relation to setting up an appropriate inspection and monitoring regime for the project.

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