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Irish Examiner: Gardaí causing a war, say anti-Shell protesters

Saturday 11 November 2006

BATON-WIELDING gardaí and anti-Shell protesters violently clashed yesterday as tensions erupted over the Corrib gas project. Mayo residents said it was an all out “war” after one man was hospitalised and several injured.

Confrontations began early in the morning when more than 200 objectors gathered 500 metres from the Shell gas terminal in north Co Mayo.

Joined by busloads of supporters from Dublin, Cork and Galway, protesters marched towards the refinery, eventually blocking access to a convoy of workers.

At one stage, chief Shell to Sea protestor Maura Harrington had her car windscreen smashed as she was forcefully removed from her vehicle when it made its way through a cordon of gardaí.

It is understood officers smashed the windscreen and the side window of her car with batons before removing her from the vehicle.

Gardaí then baton-charged the protesters to move them off the road as they attempted to block workers gaining access to the site just before 8am.

An ambulance later removed one campaigner from the scene, who was injured during the melee.

It is believed about 200 protesters and more than 100 gardaí were at the scene.

Micheál Ó Seighin, one of five men from the Rossport area who were jailed last year for 94 days for their protest over the Corrib gas pipeline, described the scene yesterday as chaotic.

Demonstrators said the clashes were frightening and the worst there had been over the last five weeks.

“It is pretty chaotic,” said Mr Ó Seighin.

“The gardaí have blocked all the public roads. And there were similar scenes at a quarry at Glencastle.

“The violence in this place has come from the cops all the time.

Mr Ó Seighin said defenders — as the group calls the protesters — have been climbing on to the convoy of vehicles taking workers inside the compound.

He said others, who attempted to cross the garda line, were being dragged back by officers.

Just last month, Ms Harrington, a school principal, was treated in hospital for a head injury sustained during a confrontation with gardaí.

She claimed yesterday that she wasn’t driving the car, but that it was pushed and later showed that the key of her car was broken.

Gardaí feared officers would be pinned between her car and other vehicles at the scene.

One man was arrested during the disturbances, gardaí based at Belmullet confirmed.

He is understood to be John Monaghan, 35, a son-in-law of Mr Ó Seighin.

The garda press office said “a few gardaí” were injured during scuffles.

One of the Rossport Five, Willie Corduff, said: “We’re a quiet community and the gardaí have the whole community upset, causing a war here.”

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted it was time to move on.

“From the Government’s point of view, that’s it, the negotiating is over, the rule of law has to be implemented and the work goes on. If there are those who try to frustrate that, they are breaking the law and it’s a matter for the gardaí to enforce that.”

Justice Minister Michael McDowell blamed clashes with gardaí on a hardcore republican element among protesters. The tactic of confronting gardaí to achieve political notoriety would not succeed, he said.

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