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The Sunday Times: The arrogance of the Shell to Sea protesters is truly astonishing

November 26, 2006
Comment: Frank Fitzgibbon 
 
It was never going to be as compelling as the heavyweight rematch between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. But Shell to Sea’s decision to cancel last Friday’s “solidarity day” at Bellanaboy, Co Mayo, has still infuriated the ragtag of troublemakers who have attached themselves to this long-running campaign of protest.

Having been comprehensively defeated in an encounter with the forces of law and order earlier this month, the assorted collection of activists has been itching for a return encounter, working on the dubious premise that nothing will collapse the capitalist system faster than a bit of head-bashing.

But with garda authorities promising that the 78 officers available for daily duty at the site of Shell’s planned refinery would be supplemented by more than the additional 50 gardai who turned up for the day of protest just over a fortnight ago, Shell to Sea’s Mark Garavan took the sensible step of cancelling the event.

Garavan’s excuse for the cancellation — “to protect the health and safety of participants” — was accompanied by the now obligatory complaint about the “unacceptable level of aggression and force” employed by the gardai “against people engaged in peaceful protest and minor civil disobedience”.

Really? Surely Garavan has learnt something about public relations since being catapulted into the public arena? If so, he must know that his version of events is shared by only the most one-eyed of his supporters.

Those who witnessed the schoolteacher Maura Harrington at the wheel of a van being pushed into a line of gardai on November 10 — the incident that sparked the outbreak of violence — will find it hard to see how this stunt tallies with his claims of “peaceful protest”.

Then again, maybe Garavan really believes his own propaganda. That would explain why he displays such astonishing arrogance in making his claim that Shell to Sea’s proposal to establish an independent commission of inquiry “remains the only viable method to resolve this crisis”.

No, it doesn’t. The Corrib gas field project has already passed through every regulatory hoop placed in its path and the operators behind the venture are legally entitled to carry on with their business. And those same companies should be afforded protection if their employees are being prevented from engaging in lawful activity.

The gulf between the two sides seems to be as wide as ever, even though one of the parties to this dispute has displayed a willingness to compromise. Shell has already agreed to change the route of its pipeline, but the protesters will accept nothing less than the gas remaining buried offshore and unexploited. The bottom line? If Garavan’s requested “independent commission” didn’t reach the same conclusion as Shell to Sea, the campaign of intimidation would continue.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2471890.html

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