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Irish Daily Mail


This is the first time we have been used against civilian protestors, says Navy as gunboat is sent to protect Broadhaven Bay pipeline

By Sandra Murphy

A NAVY gunboat was yesterday deployed to help gardai quell escalating protests by Shell to Sea campaigners at the Corrib gas site. 

The Navy admitted that sending in the LE Orla, a 39-man warship, was the first time the Navy had been used against civilian demonstrators. 

The gunboat was brought in because protesters had entered the water in a bid to halt pipeline works. 

But despite this admission, and claims that the armed forces were being used to ‘crush’ protests, gardai said they were within their rights to call in the warship as back-up. 

The move comes only a week after pictures of a digger dropping a bucket full of earth on top of a protester caused national concern over events at the site. 

John Gilligan, Garda superintendent in Belmullet, Co. Mayo, said the decision to call in the warship had been made for ‘operational reasons’ because lives had been put at risk. 

He said; ‘There has been on-going concerns at this type of protest tactic and given the environment that we are dealing with – the sea – there is a level of danger to consider. He said the Garda Water Unit was put in an awkward position and the lives of protesters, Shell workers and gardai were put in danger. 

‘The last thing anyone wants is somebody to get hurt,’ he said. 

He said last week’s incident where gardai wrestled with 15 Shell to Sea activists who entered the sea to try and halt the offshore gas pipeline was ‘the most dangerous to date’. 

In their attempt to stop pipeline dredging works, he said there was a real safety fear as the protesters surrounded the heavy machinery. 

‘Last Thursday was a very dangerous situation, probably the worst we have experienced here. And it was because of the extreme steps they took, eight were arrested under the Public Order Act. Today was not as dangerous. However, it had every potential of being as much.’ 

Yesterday’s incident occurred when campaigners crossed the safety line and entered waters in Glengad in eight rubber dinghies and emerged in wet suits. 

Apparently concerned that they may drown in the dangerous swell near the work site, the head of operations called in the Irish Defence Forces to provide them with the LE Orla. 

A spokesman for the naval service said he could not recall any of its ships ever being directly involved in an operation against demonstrators. 

Campaigners opposed to the Corrib off-shore pipeline are expected to step up protests as the world’s largest pipe-laying ship, Solitaire, is due to sail in. 

John Monaghan spokesman of anti-Corrib group Pobal Chill Chomain, last night hit out at ‘the abuse of power’ by calling in the naval services.

‘The Navy coming in shows what the State intends to do. They literally want to crush any opposition to their botched plans for the Corrib project.’ A Defence Forces spokesman said the Le Orla, which was formally a British naval gunship patrolling Hong Kong, was merely carrying out its duty. 

‘It is there as an aid to the civil power. It was requested to assist gardai and provide them with a platform at sea.’ 

Asked if an Irish naval ship had been involved in a similar capacity before, he replied: ‘Not to my immediate knowledge.’ 

He added; ‘The Naval Service has been in discussions with the gardai about this operation. Any operation we undertake will be with the gardai.’ 

Shell said the Solitaire was still anchored off Killybegs in Co. Donegal and was expected to travel to the Mayo coast in next few days when conditions improved. 

A spokesman said: ‘The work that is continuing at the site at the moment is preparatory work, and surveying work, including excavating a trench ahead of the Solitaire arriving.’ 

Shell E&P has said it recognises people’s right to protest but urged everyone to take sensible precautions near the vessels and site at Glengad. 

Protesters have vowed to continue their campaign until work on the pipeline stops.

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