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Corrib Gas saga was no more violent than one night on the beat

Sarah Clancy - Letter to Galway Advertiser

Dear Editor,

In last week’s review of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ some information that I made available to the author Lorna Siggins was para-phrased. I had no hesitation whatsoever in allowing Ms Siggins to use this information, which came from a complaint to the Garda complaints board, made after I witnessed a violent assault on Pat O’ Donnell, fisherman and opponent of the Corrib Gas project. I knew that Ms Siggins’ book would be likely to present a much needed opportunity for the multi- faceted campaign against the Corrib Gas Project in North Mayo to be reported accurately, something which has not been the case to date. As my information and my name were used in your review I would like to take the opportunity to respond to the context in which they were placed. With no disrespect to either your paper or Kevin Higgins, the author of the review, I wish to clarify some issues in relation to the campaign itself rather than the book or the media generated perception of events.

Firstly Kevin Higgins notes that the ‘debate’ has regularly descended into violence, in this he is echoing the mainstream media coverage which unfortunately is all that most people not directly involved in the issue have to go on. I contend that on the basis of easily proven historic fact, the 10-year long hotly- disputed campaign has been distinguished by a remarkable and commendable refusal on the part of the campaigners to resort to any use of violent methods. To date, in 10 years, one person involved in the campaign has been convicted on charges of assault; this I would hazard is a far lesser number than might happen on any routine Saturday night when the nightclubs close in Galway city.

I have the utmost admiration for the restraint and stoicism shown by the people of the area in the face of a virtual occupation of their remote town-lands by hundreds of Gardai, (at one stage there was a force of 400 Gardai deployed there) by poorly regulated private security firms, helicopters, heavy industrial machinery and even on a couple of occasions the presence of the Irish Navy, all of this also at a cost to the taxpayer which could have been avoided easily by proper management and consultation on the project from the outset .

I appreciate that your reviewer was commenting on the book itself rather than the campaign and was operating within the limits of space allowed for an article of this type, however for my part I think it is very fitting to take this opportunity to point out that far from just engaging in ‘protest’ our near neighbours in Mayo have been, and continue to take every single other legal and democratic opportunity available to them to seek satisfactory responses to their very valid concerns.

To date methods including the following have been used; lobbying, taking cases through the Irish courts, through thoroughly researched submissions to the planning hearings – which in fact resulted in more than 200 changes being deemed necessary on health and safety grounds, to Shell E& P’s application for planning, using the EU and OECD complaints system, and even by proposing compromise solutions such as the alternative site at Glinsk for the gas processing terminal. None of these attempts, successful or otherwise, has seemed to spur our Government into taking effective action to address the people’s concerns. To anyone who considers their fears trivial I suggest that recent pipeline explosions and events such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have clearly displayed the fallibility of technology.

It will come as no surprise to anyone given the political and economic situation we are currently in, that some years ago when the people in the area affected by the Corrib Gas project sought the help and support of their government, which as citizens they should have a right to, they encountered at the very least incompetence intransigence, and negligence. While it is true to say that in many cases those of us involved have not done as smooth and polished jobs of representing ourselves as say the highly paid spokespeople for the government and or Shell E&P Ireland, it should be remembered that it is a tense situation for those involved. Furthermore these people are not highly paid professional campaign strategists or government mouthpieces merely people living in a quiet remote area, which before the Corrib Project, only required the services of two part time gardai.

Their campaign which affects all of us both in terms of the functioning of our State itself, and in the use of our natural resources, deserves at the very least our attention if not, as I personally feel, our respect and support. It particularly requires that those of us who publicly comment on it exercise caution and seek solutions rather than further conflict, which so far has served no one. It is my hope, as your reviewer also urges, that people will read this book and not be misled by a government that seems intent on giving any natural resources this country possesses away with little or no benefit to its citizens.


Sarah Clancy

11 St Mary’s Ave

Lr Salthill