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Irish Independent: Pipeline: the people’s verdict

Published: Nov 24, 2006

70pc back Corrib, while majority say protesters ‘intimidating’

IT was always likely that the people of Mayo would baulk at the violent scenes involving protesters and gardai at the gates of Shell’s site at Bellanaboy Bridge.

And now an opinion poll confirms that the vast majority of people (70pc) in the county want the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline to continue without the work being impeded.

Tough

That much is clear from the Red C opinion poll carried out for the Irish Independent/RTE Prime Time on a tough issue that has divided the tiny Erris peninsula community.

The poll is also a blow to the Shell to Sea campaign which claimed it had popular local support – results show just 8pc agree that the campaign speaks for all of the community.

The Shell to Sea campaign emerged from the original Rossport 5 saga which saw five men jailed for their local opposition to the pipeline running near their homes.

It now encompasses a motley grouping of up to 100 local people and their families, Sinn Fein activists, self-confessed anarchists, anti-war campaigners and anti-globalisation supporters from across Ireland and Britain.

But it is the people of Co Mayo – not outsiders – who have given their verdict in this poll.

It reveals that a majority (53pc) agree with the statement that the anti-Shell protesters are “an intimidating presence which dissuaded local people from disagreeing with them”.

Most people (52pc) also believe that the protesters are being “manipulated by people from outside the area who want to cause trouble”.

An overhwelming majority want the work on the Shell site to press ahead but the poll shows they have no particular love for Shell; just 22pc believe the company has behaved “reasonably” throughout the affair.

There is also strong support (41pc) for comments by Justice Minister Michael McDowell that a tiny minority of people are confronting the law and are being supported by Sinn Fein.

An Irish Independent investigation last month revealed widespread instances of intimidation against those who have expressed support for the project while local people said Sinn Fein had “hijacked” the protest.

It also emerged that protesters were being bussed in from Dublin and other areas with many of the outsiders blamed for provoking clashes with gardai.

Gardai are also investigating death threats made against Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey.

The Red C findings indicate a strong backlash against the recent violent incidents and the allegations of intimidation by protesters.

The poll reveals that just 7pc agreed with the statement that the protesters speak for all of the community, with 40pc saying the campaign represented a minority.

Attempts to prevent contractors accessing the site have been roundly rejected by the people of Co Mayo, with 32pc of people saying the protests should cease completely.

A further 38pc said protests should be allowed as long as no attempts to impede access to the Shell site were made, with just 14pc backing direct action to halt the construction work.

Surprisingly, despite disapproval for the nature of the protests, 59pc of people agreed that the protesters were doing what they would do if the issue was on their own doorsteps.

Ten years after Enterprise Oil discovered the Corrib Gas Field and five years after Shell acquired the firm, plans for the extraction of the gas are in their final stages.

The terminal, says Shell, will lead to the creation of 50 permanent jobs and at least 700 temporary posts during a two-year construction period.

The high-pressure shore-based gas pipeline will bring the fuel on the final 9km stretch of a journey that will begin 83km out at sea.

Broadhaven

Coming ashore at Broadhaven Bay, the gas will travel through the pipe that will be three times thicker than a Bord Gais pipe and buried one metre underground.

The Rossport residents were jailed for 94 days after refusing to give an undertaking not to interfere with the construction of the pipe, which was originally routed across land owned by some of the men.

Since then, Shell has been forced to make major changes to its plans, which now include amendments covering the route and manufacturing of the pipes that will carry unrefined gas to the on-shore terminal.

Local people broadly back the scheme after changes demanded by bodies such as An Bord Pleanala and an independent mediator Peter Cassells were made.

Ciaran Byrne

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