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PulseTC.com: Big Oil in Ireland–the people won’t play the Shell game

Anti-Shell Protest in Ireland

Wednesday 28 February @ 13:10:15 
by Emily Lindell & Dan Gannon

By June 2005, the residents of the tiny community of Rossport, Ireland, had had enough. For years, they had registered objections and appeals to the Shell gas pipeline project proposed to run through their farming and fishing community. By mid-year, the corporate interests were losing patience with the delays and raised the stakes of the dispute. Bringing police officers with them as they attempted to access private yards and farmland that was to be seized for the pipeline, Shell officials still were turned away repeatedly. The police that accompanied the multinational’s reps recorded the names of those who refused to welcome Shell onto their properties. Soon, five of these community members would land in a Dublin jail on an indefinite sentence as punishment for their refusal to submit to Shell’s plan.

The arrest of these men, dubbed the “Rossport Five”—two farmers, a pensioner, a musician and a construction worker—transformed a local resistance based in Rossport and the surrounding region of Erris into a major campaign. As the days of their imprisonment turned into months, the Rossport Five became national symbols of inspiration and resistance. Shell and its development partners insisted their plan was safe and necessary, but in the face of community defiance, they ceased pipeline construction. As Shell escalated tactics to gain the upper hand, the people of Rossport demonstrated the power of popular resistance.

Exploiting the Corrib Gas Field

A decade ago, the Corrib gas field was discovered about 75 kilometers off the Erris coast, deep under the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, a Big Oil consortium of Shell, Marathon and Statoil acquired rights to the Corrib field. These corporations then persuaded government bodies from County Mayo to Dublin to grant the permits necessary to extract the gas and transport it inland for refining. To do this, the gas would be piped undersea and overground to a new refinery outside the village of Rossport.

Shell’s pipeline was not only proposed to run through residents’ backyards, but over waterlogged bogland as well. Analysis on the design of pipeline components, performed on behalf of the Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI), an independent research group, raised additional concerns about pipeline corrosion and rupture potential. To compound these worries, the contaminated wastewater and air pollution expected to result from the project would pose additional risks to human health, marine life and the local fishing economy.

Investigation into the financial side of the project revealed that, as in many other resource-rich areas throughout the world, the income from the Corrib gas field would be diverted far from the locality in which it was found. Irish government policy changes spanning the previous two decades exempt oil and gas companies from royalty payments and allow tax write-offs for exploration and development. Furthermore, the tax rate for oil and gas companies was halved in 1992 by then-Finance Minister Bertie Ahern, who now heads the Irish government. The result of these policies is that the Shell consortium would enjoy significant subsidies to extract and refine the Corrib gas. In addition, the consortium would gain a full profit margin upon selling the gas back to the Irish gas board (An Bord Gais) at the normal market rate.

The People Say No

After more than three months of intense public pressure, the Rossport Five were at last released. At that time, the five issued a statement reminding “Shell and their Irish government partner that imprisonments have historically and will always fail as a method to secure the agreement of Irish people.” The summer of the Rossport Five’s imprisonment, supporters, under the movement name “Shell to Sea,” founded a solidarity encampment in the path of the proposed pipeline, held huge rallies across the nation, and forged international relationships.

Since that time there have been protests, mediation attempts, smear campaigns against the protesters, as well as ongoing litigation. While the community campaign of public pressure, pickets and blockades was successful in stopping pipeline construction from mid-2005 through today, in October 2006 Shell pushed forward with construction at the gas refinery site.

This area is now guarded by up to 200 police officers at a time, with personnel imported to this region solely to protect the Shell project. In spite of the arrests and injuries inflicted by these police, the people of Erris continue their resistance. Even after getting an apology from Shell for the jailing of the Rossport Five and persuading an independent mediator that the proposed pipeline route was flawed, campaigners refuse to rest until Shell abandons its inland pipeline and refinery project entirely. They now stage daily pickets at the construction site, engage in civil disobedience and continue to publicize their story nationally and internationally.

Acting Locally, Rossport Thinks Globally

In Rossport today, a smiling mural portrait of Ken Saro Wiwa looks out at homes, shoreline and pipeline construction materials. Saro Wiwa was one of the “Ogoni Nine,” a group hanged in Nigeria in 1995 as a result of its opposition to Shell’s exploitation of the Niger Delta. In a visit to Ireland last summer, Saro Wiwa’s brother, Dr. Owens Wiwa, marched in solidarity with the local campaigners. Quoted in the Irish Examiner, Wiwa noted that in spite of the significant difference between Ireland’s democracy and Nigeria’s former military dictatorship, “I see the same pattern here of Shell trying to use the institutions of the state against the people.”

Campaigners in Rossport echo this sentiment, linking Shell’s efforts in Ireland with the more brutal impacts of Big Oil exploitation in Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil. Eve, a solidarity camp representative, notes the need for international solidarity, stating that the “majority of extractive industries operate in countries where dissent can be met with a bullet.” She continues: “The state can imprison or beat us but cannot shoot us or hang us for our resistance. As such, our fight is one for all communities fighting Shell.” In addition, she adds that some Irish campaigners are looking to South American countries, such as Bolivia, for models of natural resource reclamation.

The people of Erris often declare themselves survivors, citing their endurance of centuries of English colonization, forced emigration and poverty. The community claims it will also triumph over Shell’s “neo-colonial” efforts. Believing that their very future is at stake, these campaigners see themselves as part of a global movement to put people before profit. ||

Emily Lindell & Dan Gannon visited Rossport last spring.

For more information, see the following:
www.indymedia.ie
www.corribsos.com (website of the Shell to Sea campaign)
www.publicinquiry.ie (Centre for Public Inquiry report on Corrib gas project)
“Our Story–The Rossport Five” (book published in December 2006 by Small World Media, Ireland)
www.youtube.com (campaign video footage, search term: Rossport)

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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