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Fishermen claim tricks in pipeline fight

The Sunday Times

June 28, 2009

After two boats were impounded near Rossport, fishermen complain gardai are helping facilitate gas pipeline installation

 Aine Ryan

At Glengad in north Mayo yesterday, tourists must have thought they had strayed on to the set of a James Bond film. There were cameras, a helicopter, a mysterious ship and getaway boats. Several 4X4s and unmarked buses filled with police were on the land.

The bay was drenched in sunshine and, sporting a white sun hat, local parish priest Michael Nallen walked to the cliff edge to check the canvas village of protesters, known as the Rossport Solidarity Camp.

“There is a sense the law is being used to kick people into submission,” said Nallen. “The state seems to be able to bend the law to help a multinational but not address the real concerns of a community.”

In the bay the Solitaire, protected by two Irish Navy vessels, lay an offshore pipeline that will connect Shell’s installation at Glengad with its gas field 83km away. The 300m-long ship, which has a full crew of 420, was escorted into the bay amid tight security last week. Gardai and Shell’s security personnel vastly outnumbered protesters yesterday as the Solitaire worked on.

If the weather remains good, the inshore work will end this week and the ship can continue out to sea, getting further away from protesters.

Last night fishermen met Dara Calleary, a junior minister from Ballina, to complain about how the powers of the local garda superintendent Michael Larkin, “appear to have been extended to facilitate the Solitaire”.

At an earlier meeting with the officer, they were told Pat O’Donnell’s boat, the John Michelle, which was impounded along with that of his son Jonathan last Thursday, could not be released because the navy deemed it unseaworthy. They were also told Jonathan’s boat, the James Collins, would be released only if he adhered to bail conditions laid out in the High Court on Friday.

“The navy deciding that my boat is not seaworthy and must be held to protect my health and safety is another tool to help Shell,” Pat O’Donnell said. “I have a constitutional right to fish and will not give that up.”

Eddie Diver, a fishermen’s representative, said: “Our primary concern is to get Pat and Jonathan O’Donnell’s boats released. It’s the height of the season. They could lose their livelihoods.”

Protesters have gathered on Ballyglass pier, near Belmullet, to show solidarity with the O’Donnells, whose boats are berthed there and manned by gardai. Another of their vessels, the Iona Isle, sank off Erris Head in mysterious circumstances on June 11.

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