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Seven men arrested at Corrib gas protest

Monday, May 11, 2009

LORNA SIGGINS in Glengad, Co Mayo

SEVEN PEOPLE are due in court in Ballina, Co Mayo, on Wednesday, following their arrest at a Shell to Sea protest at the Corrib gas landfall in north Mayo over the weekend.

The seven men, said to be ranging in age from teens to mid-forties, were charged with public order offences, including criminal damage, obstruction and possession of offensive weapons.

The arrests were made by gardaí during a three-hour protest by up to 100 people on Saturday at the Glengad landfall location for the Corrib gas pipeline.

The demonstration had been billed as a “national day of action” by Shell to Sea, but smaller numbers than anticipated by gardaí attended. As a result, up to 200 gardaí appeared to outnumber protesters by two to one, while private security staff employed by Shell were also present.

The Shell to Sea action was not formally supported by the two leading community groups, Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile – both of which took part in the recently aborted direct talks between Shell and the Government. However, individual members may have attended, according to Pobal Chill Chomáin spokesman John Monaghan, who didn’t participate.

A Garda command and control unit stationed inside the compound was backed up by 12 Garda security vans, two four-wheel-drives and a transporter. A Garda spokesman said the decision to draft in so many gardaí was based on a risk assessment of a “public order threat”.

Uniformed gardaí also set up checkpoints on access routes to Pollathomas and Glengad, taking names and preventing some drivers, including local residents, from using the road for the duration of the protest.

The protest, which was witnessed by two observers from the Frontline human rights organisation, began at 6.15pm when local people and visitors, led by Maura Harrington of Shell to Sea and including James Monaghan, one of three Irishmen convicted in Colombia of training Farc rebels, approached Glengad.

Several dozen Rossport solidarity camp supporters crossed over Dooncarton mountain – site of the landslide at Pollathomas in 2003 – due to the Garda roadblocks. About an hour later, attempts were made to approach the compound down on the shoreline via two routes, in spite of a full tide.

Several scuffles took place on a farmer’s land when a handful of protesters, including two young women, tried to secure rope around compound fencing. One protester claimed he had been punched in the stomach by a garda during the melee, while another man suffered minor injuries to his hand.

Shell to Sea spokesman Terence Conway said the event aimed to highlight work carried out by the Corrib gas developers at the Glengad landfall, which is a special area of conservation (SAC).

Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan says that he has been informed by Mayo County Council that the work, involving fencing and erection of a compound, is an exempted development.

This has been disputed by An Taisce which says that Bord Gáis applied for planning permission for ancillary work during construction of the Mayo-Galway transmission pipeline.

The developers are currently preparing to lay the offshore pipeline linking the Corrib field to the shore.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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