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Shell and Irish Police Force sued for defamation

The Sunday Times
August 2, 2009

Fisherman sues Shell Ireland

Following the sinking of one of his boats, Pat O’Donnell, has lodged defamation proceedings against Shell Ireland and the gardai

Mark Tighe

Pat O’Donnell, the Shell to Sea protester known as the “the Chief”, has lodged defamation proceedings against gardai and Shell Ireland. O’Donnell would not confirm why he was suing but it is believed to concern statements made following the sinking of the Iona Isle, one of his lobster boats, last June.

Both gardai and Shell cast doubt on O’Donnell’s account of how his boat sank.

O’Donnell has been a prominent protester against the Shell gas pipeline project as he believes it is unsafe and will cause pollution.

Two High Court defamation writs were issued in O’Donnell’s name on July 24. One writ names Shell E&P Ireland and John Egan, its head of communications, as the defendants. In the other case Tony McNamara, chief superintendent in Castlebar, the garda commissioner, Ireland, and the attorney-general are the defendants.

The papers were lodged by McGarr solicitors, a Dublin-based firm which has previously represented O’Donnell in cases against Shell.

O’Donnell said he had taken legal advice not to discuss the cases. Egan said he had received no documentation from O’Donnell over the case.

“I believe he has a year from filing the case to decide to bring it forward so we’ll have to see what the nature of the claim is,” said Egan.

The Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association has asked for a thorough investigation into the Iona Isle incident which it said marked a “sinister turn of events” in the dispute in Mayo.

Gardai said they have taken a number of statements.

A statement in June by McGarr solicitors said O’Donnell was at sea on June 11 with Martin McDonnell, a crewman, as he had heard a rumour that an “unidentified fishing boat” was intent on removing and damaging his fishing gear on the seabed.

O’Donnell said four men in wetsuits boarded his boat. “Two of them were armed with guns,” said the statement. “They told Pat and Martin to be quiet. Two of the men held Pat and Martin in the wheelhouse at gunpoint while the other two went below. After a while the two men returned from below and joined the others.”

After two hours the four men departed, said the statement, and “Pat went below and found water had entered the boat and had covered the engine”. McDonnell issued a Mayday alert and called gardai. The men were picked up by the Rachel Mary, a boat also owned by O’Donnell.

Shell issued a statement denying any involvement in the sinking. It said all its security boats were accounted for and none was in the vicinity.

O’Donnell told The Sunday Times after the incident: “I have made numerous complaints to the gardai about my treatment at [Shell’s] hands but it’s a waste of time. Shell calls the shots up here.”

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