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Irish Times: Mood is ‘akin to the Civil War’

By: Lorna Siggins,
Published: Oct 19, 2006

Community impact: Just over a year after much of Mayo united to support the release of the Rossport Five from jail, the atmosphere in north Mayo is “akin to the Civil War”, according to several local politicians.

GardaI in Castlebar are currently investigating two allegations of intimidation, while a separate allegation involving death threats has been lodged with gardaI in Dublin by Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey. The Shell to Sea protest group has condemned any such behaviour, which is “the antithesis of our campaign”, according to Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley (Ind) and Dr Mark Garavan.

“And what’s intimidation?” asked Fine Gael TD for Mayo Michael Ring. “I know there are people who are angry. I’ve heard of several incidents, but it is not intimidation – and there’s a big difference.”

Last week, Glenamoy farmer PJ Moran says he was threatened by gardaI, while his sister Mary, who keeps the kettle boiling at the Shell to Sea trailer at the gas terminal protests, says she was lifted out of the vehicle by several Garda officers during the operation on October 3rd.

The use of Garda video cameras is perceived as a form of counter-intimidation, designed to deter more people from supporting the pickets, while Shell workers say they have been filmed by Shell to Sea supporters. GardaI say the video footage is for their own records of handling events and is available to the public.

Chief Supt Tony McNamara, head of the Garda’s Mayo division, said he has received about 10 complaints of intimidation, with two of these constituting formal statements which are under investigation.

“I know a lot of the people over there objecting, and I am satisfied of their bona fides,” he said. “We’re talking about the actions of a small minority. This area has been crime-free for many years, but unfortunately people have been backed into a corner.

“We’re very conscious of our role, and there have been great relationships between gardaI and the people of Erris for many years. Something like this can fracture a community, and that is very sad. At the same time, we live in a democracy and the rule of law has to prevail.”

Fine Gael councillor Gerry Coyle, owner of a Statoil station outside Belmullet, was picketed last year during the Rossport Five jailing. Statoil is a partner with Marathon and Shell in the Corrib project. It was very distressing, as I had publicly supported this project. But no one has bothered me since then. I didn’t want to see anyone going to jail.”

Mr Coyle believes the current split will take a long time to heal.

Fianna Fail councillor Tim Quinn agrees. “It is very distasteful, and the only solution is to process the gas offshore,” Mr Quinn said.

He said he had direct experience of the Garda presence last week when he was subjected to “smart comments” by one officer.

Local businesses in Bangor are reticent about talking on the record. “We’re all for this gas, even the objectors, but Shell has just made a bags of it,” one shop assistant said.

Also reluctant to talk are landowners who signed up to compulsory acquisition orders issued in 2002. One farmer was recently offered an additional 10,000 a year over two years for inconvenience, which he refused to accept. A document confirming the offer has been seen by The Irish Times .

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