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The Mayo News: Gardaí outnumber protesters

By Áine Ryan

THE LARGEST Garda presence in north Mayo for months facilitated the first day of peat removal, since before the jailing of the Rossport Five in June 2005, from the proposed Shell refinery site at Bellanaboy on Monday morning last.

Shell to Sea members claimed that over 200 gardaí were deployed between Bangor and Bellanaboy, outnumbering the protest group by around four-to-one. They also claimed that the inflated force of gardaí had been conveyed to the area by a large coach as well as seven Paddy Wagons and six squad cars.

Chief Superintendent Tony McNamara declined to verify the precise Garda numbers to The Mayo News. “For operational reasons, I am not prepared to disclose our numbers on the ground. There are people monitoring our movements with a view to disrupting our operations if, for example, we had an insufficient presence. I will confirm the gardaí were all from the Mayo division and that there was no trouble,” said Chief Supt McNamara.

He added that each lorry-load of peat was not escorted by Garda vehicles as claimed to The Mayo News by a number of protestors. He also categorically denied that a coach was used to convey the inflated force to north Mayo on Monday morning. 

“The peat lorries were not flanked by the Gardaí. I understand there was one incident where a local protestor proceeded to drive his vehicle very slowly in front of a lorry and that Gardaí intervened,” he added.

Shell to Sea spokesman, John Monaghan, strongly challenged this assertion. “I was there and every lorry, or at least over 90 per cent of them, was accompanied by a Garda vehicle. This was the largest presence of gardaí I have seen here for months, even bigger than our last Day of Solidarity in February, which attracted people from all over the country,” said Mr Monaghan.

In a written statement, Shell announced the re-initiation of the 350,000 tonnes of peat removal operation, from Bellanaboy to a Bord na Móna cut-away bog, eleven kilometres away, at Shramore.

“The operation will be completed by October 2007, when construction of the onshore gas processing plant will begin,” the statement said.

“There are currently almost 200 people working on the Corrib Gas project and this figure will rise to approximately 350 in the coming weeks, with the peat haulage operation. By autumn 2007, 700 jobs will have been created by the project with the construction of the onshore terminal,” it continued.

Meanwhile, Rossport Five’s Micheál Ó Seighin has corroborated Dr Jerry Cowley’s recent contention that the phones of those close to the campaign were being tapped. “I have no doubt that my phone has been tapped for a long time. You would think technological advances would be able to silence the audibility of recording click-noises,” said Mr Ó Seighin.

Last week Minister for Justice, Mr Michael McDowell declined to specifically answer a written  question by Dr Cowley regarding interceptions on his own phone, that of Seanad candidate, Dr Mark Garavan, and those of the Rossport Five.

“It is not the practice and it would be contrary to the public interest to disclose if an authorisation to intercept has, or has not been, granted in any particular case,” said Minister McDowell.

Dr Cowley has since spoken to the Garda Commissioner, Mr Noel Conroy, about the allegations and will also contact Complaints Referee, Judge Carroll Moran who has powers to examine such charges under Section 9 of the Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Act 1993.

He also intends bringing legislation before the Oireachtas for the institution of an Interception of Communications Officer, whose remit, like in Britain, would ensure there is more transparency about sanctioned interceptions.

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