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FT: Irish grass roots clog Shell gas pipeline


As the road approaches the Shell gas terminal at Ballinaboy on Ireland’s Atlantic west coast, only the posters pinned to the telegraph poles give any hint of the country’s longest-running environmental protest.

…for the past four years this remote but beautiful corner of north Mayo has been the setting for a bitter industrial dispute. At times, hundreds of police have been deployed to break up pickets. And this summer, the tiny hamlets of Glengad and Rossport looked on as two Irish navy frigates moored in Broadhaven Bay, apparently there to stop the protesters’ dinghies interfering with the Solitaire, Shell’s vast pipe-laying ship.

Exactly how a grass-roots campaign led by a retired schoolteacher and a handful of hill farmers and lobster pot fishermen has frustrated Ireland’s most important energy project perplexes industry experts.

…this tiny group, with its headquarters in a huddle of tents in a field overlooking Broadhaven Bay, has consistently outwitted Shell’s vast public relations apparatus.

Shell, by contrast, has been flat-footed. Its decision in 2005 to resort to the courts is now seen, even by company officials, as counter-productive. Three farmers and two retired schoolteachers, quickly dubbed the Rossport Five, were sent to prison for defying a court order to let Shell on to their fields and became overnight celebrities in a country that loves a rebel.

“Shell took the local people for idiots,” says Pat O’Donnell…

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