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The Sunday Times: Shell to Sea is awash with discord

November 26, 2006
Mark Tighe
 
A BATTLE has erupted for control of the Shell to Sea campaign between activists from outside Mayo and local objectors. The “outsiders”, furious that Friday’s planned “day of action” was cancelled with just five days’ notice, are attempting to wrest control of the group’s agenda. A similar protest on November 10 resulted in violent clashes with gardai in Bellanaboy, the site of Shell’s planned gas terminal.

Campaigners based in a number of counties, including Donegal, Kerry and Dublin, are worried that Mayo activists are caving in to pressure from the gardai who police the daily demonstrations at the Shell site. 
 
“We’d put up a lot of posters for Friday and gone to a lot of effort organising transport,” said a protester who attended a demonstration in Dublin on Thursday, which involved a short occupation of the Department of Marine and Natural Resources’s reception.

“The group in Mayo decided to call off Friday and we had no say in it. It’s frustrating because we’ve lost momentum.”

The decision to call off the day of action was taken at a weekly Sunday meeting of the group in Mayo but it was lambasted as “weak” and a “capitulation” to “gardai violence” by the majority of posters on the indymedia website, the most popular forum for protesters.

“The tea and cucumber sandwich school of protest is not going to accomplish anything here,” said Miriam Cotton. “This is the wrong time to change tack — a serious miscalculation by Shell to Sea.”

Mark Garavan, chief spokesman of Shell to Sea, said he couldn’t comment specifically on those who disagreed with the cancellation of the day of action.

“We have a wide campaign,” he said. “This will continue and there will be elements of civil disobedience in it. We didn’t think it would be safe to go ahead with Friday. It is the nature of our membership that there are many different voices. That is one of our strengths.”

Shell to Sea is backed by a number of divergent political parties: the Greens, parts of Labour, independent TDs, and Sinn Fein. While some say they don’t want the Corrib gas project to go ahead at all, others say they are only against Shell’s current plan.

Shell, which held two information days for the community in Belmullet last week, has accused the campaign of being anti-Shell not anti the project.

While Mayo is the home of the Shell to Sea campaign, Shell petrol stations around Ireland and Britain have been targeted in the past week. Some 20 activists blockaded a Shell station in Birmingham last Monday to raise publicity for the campaign in Britain.

Protesters say they have made 10 official complaints against gardai violence arising from the November 10 demonstration. One video posted on YouTube appears to show a female student writhing in agony after being pushed to the ground by a garda. Yesterday the group held a strategy meeting in Mayo. It is understood that Dublin-based activists demanded a greater say on future tactics.

The protest at the marine department on Thursday drew a small group of more than 20 demonstrators — none were from Mayo. Those who stood in the building’s reception area for more than 40 minutes, under gardai supervision, were given rapturous applause as they left, although two became stuck in the revolving exit doors.

On Friday, Garavan released a statement about a “flawed poll” commissioned by RTE’s Prime Time and the Irish Independent, which he said showed media bias against his organisation. The Irish Independent claimed the poll showed “70% back Corrib”.

“Shell to Sea deplores the selective and biased account in today’s Irish Independent of the RedC opinion poll,” said the statement. “There is an inaccurate and disgraceful manipulation of the opinion poll findings.”

Dublin activists said they would be against imposing a hierarchical structure on the Shell to Sea group, which has no official leaders only spokespeople such as Garavan.
 
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2472016,00.html

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