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Western People: Bearing the wounds of Corrib row…

By: Orla Hearns

PROTESTORS against the Corrib gas project in Bellanaboy say they have been left in genuine fear following the unprecedented physical clashes with gardai at the terminal site last Friday.

But the claims have been dismissed by Supt Joseph Gannon, Belmullet, who said last Friday’s events were another publicity stunt by the Shell to Sea campaign and its supporters.

Brothers, Pat and Martin O’Donnell, were referred to Mayo General Hospital with injuries last Friday, January 19, following the incident near the Bellanaboy terminal site.

Pat O’Donnell told the Western People that he was held against a bridge by two gardai and punched in the face four or five times by a third after attempting to assist a young protestor who was being kicked on the ground by the officers.

He maintained that the gardai were completely out of control. He alleged his brother, Martin, was subjected to similar physical treatment when he came to Pat’s assistance, while a third brother, Tony, was hauled across the road where gardai threatened to throw him over the bridge.

Pat was left with a suspected broken nose. Martin had to have three stitches to a wound above his eye. He also sustained facial bruising and has been advised by doctors that a bone in his neck has been chipped.

They have both officially reported the assaults to An Garda Siochana in Castlebar and are currently considering making formal statements of complaint.

Pat stressed that he had merely been trying to protect one of his fellow protestors out of genuine fear for that individual’s safety.

Spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign, PJ Moran, insisted that the protestors had been conducting themselves peacefully that morning when the gardai had reacted for no reason.

He alleged that there did not appear to be anyone in charge of the gardai that day.

The protest resumed peace-fully at Bellanaboy yesterday morning (Monday) but Mr Moran says the participants are genuinely fearful.

“There is a terrible fear going back there in the dark at seven in the morning. You just do not know what is going to happen now.”

But Supt Joseph Gannon said the incident was a publicity stunt by the Shell to Sea campaign that had been devised to co-incide with the visit of an American television crew.

He maintained that a young garda had been pulled into the mob and assaulted as the gardai attempted to stop the protestors from blocking the bridge near the terminal site. Gardai went to their colleague’s assistance and a physical confrontation ensued in which blows were struck in order to extricate the garda.

Supt Gannon said a Garda Sergeant was also pushed in front of a bus that morning, while others had the epaulettes torn from their uniforms.

The Superintendent insisted that an Inspector in charge was present that morning.

“I am there nearly on a daily basis and the gardai do not react whatsoever when the protestors are peaceful and do not block the road.

“They are fooling no one, least of all me, when they say they fear the gardai. The gardai will not go near them if they conduct themselves in a peaceful lawful way and stop agitating for the purposes of publicity.”

He warned that he would curtail concessions that are currently being afforded to the protestors if they persist with that attitude.

The confrontation came just after the Corrib Gas Partners had concluded three open days in Castlebar and Ballina. Over 200 people, including a number of school groups, came along to learn about the project.

The Open Days are the first steps in public consultation around finding a new route for the onshore pipeline.

A further step forward in the process of finding a modified route is the appointment of RPS to provide engineering support services for the onshore pipeline, including consultation around the criteria for finding a modified route.

Over the coming months RPS and Shell will hold further public meetings to focus on the pipeline.

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