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Belmullet court cases a 'complete waste of money'

By: 
Anton McNulty - Mayo News

AN ERRIS councillor has described last week's special sitting of Belmullet District [court] involving Shell to Sea protesters as a 'complete waste of resources'.

A special sitting of Belmullet District Court ran over four days where 27 people were summoned to appear before the court following protests in relation to the Corrib gas project. Only one person who appeared before the court was convicted while another person was given the probation act and others were acquitted or had their charges withdrawn.

Sinn Fein councillor Rose Conway Walsh told The MayoNews that 'scarce' public resources should be used better on tackling 'real crime' rather than bringing protesters to court on minor charges.

"This is a complete waste of resources and scarce resources I might add when you consider that we are struggling to keep beds open in Belmullet hospital. It is a complete waste of money to bring these people to court and to keep Pat O'Donnell in jail and separated from his family. Garda resources would be better deployed keeping communities safe and doing what needs to be done in tackling real crime," she said.

A Garda spokesperson told The Mayo News that when Gardai investigate incidents, all the files are forwarded to the DPP who have the final say on whether to bring prosecutions.

The spokesperson added that there were a number of reasons why some of the charges were struck out and these included vital prosecution witnesses not being available to give evidence.

'On Thursday of last week, charges against nine members of the Erris community were struck out by Judge Gerard Haughton after the State indicated it would not be offering any evidence. The charges against the local residents related to the removal of netting from the cliff at Glengad beach.

On the same day public order charges against nine protesters were dismissed by Judge Haughton after he ruled that they were unlawfully detained following their arrest last May. Seven of these protesters were remanded to prison by Judge Mary Devins until released by order of the High Court a number of days later. All nine were also banned from entering the county of Mayo, while their case was being heard.

Shell to Sea spokesperson, Maura Harrington claimed that the special sitting had exposed 'unbalanced policing of Shell's operations in Erris'.

"The question remains, why were most of these cases proceeded with for many months and then dropped at the last minute? And is this an attempt by the State to discourage peaceful protest and intimidate campaigners who oppose Shell?" she said.

The only conviction during the four days was recorded against Niall Hamett of Barnacullen, Pollathomas who was convicted of assaulting gardai and was sentenced to five months imprisonment.