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The Sunday Times: Shell to Sea leader receives a poor school report

October 08, 2006
Mark Tighe
 
BY day she is the headmistress of a primary school in Mayo; in her spare time she is a member a protest group harassing one of the world’s largest oil companies. But is Maura Harrington’s work suffering because of her extracurricular activities? 
 
A Department of Education inspection report into Inver National school, where Harrington is principal, calls for a new management structure and says staff meetings are lacking clear agendas, planning and record keeping. The report, written in Irish and recently posted on the department’s website, is critical compared to the anodyne assessments generally written by schools’ inspectors.

Yesterday, Harrington denied the report on her school was negative and said she didn’t want to discuss her four-year principalship. But she insisted that, despite her prominent role in the Shell to Sea organisation, she never allows politics in the classroom.

Harrington’s group is increasingly being accused by some Mayo locals of aggressive behaviour towards residents and workers whose sympathies lie with Shell.

Paddy Cosgrove, a farmer and former schoolteacher, said the actions of a small group of protesters, including Harrington, had forced residents who supported Shell into silence.

“People are scared to express themselves,” said Cosgrove. “I live 12 miles away and when I visited the terminal at Bellanaboy I was blocked coming out of the gates by the protesters. This wasn’t a peaceful process because they were trying to make hostages of people.”

Cosgrove, who has made five complaints of intimidation to local gardai, believes Shell to Sea uses a variety of tactics, including threatening phone calls and blocking the driveways of Shell supporters. He claims Harrington once tried to block his tractor.

The school principal has been in trouble with gardai on several occasions, but she denies charges of intimidation. “I wouldn’t bother myself going near that man,” said Harrington of Cosgrove.

“What is intimidating is what I saw outside the gates of Bellanaboy in the dark hours of Monday night. It was something I never thought I’d see in this accursed country. To see the forces of the state under the control of a multinational oil company ranged against their own people is intimidating.”

Since last Monday, more than 150 gardai have been stationed in northwest Mayo to prevent Shell to Sea protesters blocking the entrance of the Bellanaboy terminal. Gardai have vowed to help workers enter the Shell terminal, which has been closed since last summer.

Some locals are hoping the extra gardai will curb Shell to Sea’s more aggressive tendencies.

“These people are a law unto themselves,” said a landowner in Rossport, who preferred not to be named. “Contractors are harassed and they follow and photograph anyone new to the area. They park in our driveways at night and beep their horns.”

While Harrington said she was unaware of any intimidation against Shell supporters, Micheal O’Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, said the arrival of gardai last week was an attempt to provoke violence.

“What the gardai have done this week has turned local people against them for a lifetime,” claimed O’Seighin. “It is like Iraq — they have no exit strategy. When a situation is inflamed like this, one can never be sure there won’t be incidents.”

He said the gardai moved the protesters into a pen filled with loose rocks in an attempt to engineer a riot.

Shell has agreed to modify the route of its pipeline from the offshore Erris oilfield, but the new route has not been finalised. The company argues this should not prevent it from restarting work at Bellanaboy, which is scheduled to take three years to complete.
 
According to a garda spokesman, they will remain in the area for as long as required and “minimum force” will be used at the site. They are investigating a complaint of intimidation made last week against the protesters.

Sean Hannick, chairman of Council for the West and a former Mayo person of the year, said he had received abusive phone calls since expressing support for the Shell development.

“Now that the independent reports have addressed the safety concerns, I don’t see a reason for protests,” said Hannick. “We need to develop the economy in northwest Mayo. I’m afraid the hostility of the people against Shell and others will not end, no matter what Shell agrees to.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2393825,00.html

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