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Mary Robinson, Global Climate Justice Hero? Or Not?

Daniel E Dullea

Just a year ago, Amy Goodman interviewed Mary Robinson, former President of the Irish state and UN Commissioner for Human Rights & Climate Justice. At the time I thought she was wonderful. I’ve recently come to believe just the opposite. Mary Robinson has, at best, been indifferent to the environmental justice struggle closest to her home! She has never spoken out to support rural people seeking climate justice in the west of Ireland. Her fellow countrymen have struggled against Shell Oil in County Mayo Ireland since 1999. Mary Robinson was born and raised in County Mayo.

For 16 years a tiny remote rural community (Kilcommon) of farmers and fisherman have been battling to stop a high-pressure gas pipeline from coming ashore through their community and onward to a new and dangerous gas processing plant a few kilometers inland in a bog. The European Union had previously declared the entire area as Environmentally Significant and Protected. But a consortium of multi-national fossil fuel companies, with cooperation from the Irish government, (and in disregard of the EU protection designation) coveted the area as the place to bring ashore raw gas from 90 kilometers out at sea! Right from the start, when some local people asked questions and began to object, the community was torn apart. The lead developer was Enterprise Oil. The first move company representatives made was to cultivate support of the region’s Roman Catholic bishop with promises of progress and good jobs. (In a follow story I will explain why references for the Bishops flight are hard to find in the Internet in Europe.)

With much fanfare, and a camera crew from RTE TV, the bishop was flown by helicopter to the offshore drilling site for a ritual spectacle. When the helicopter flew over the well site, the bishop blessed the well in the name of god. The staged PR event was carried live to the Irish national TV audience. On the following Sunday priests of all the local parishes endorsed the project from the pulpit. The priests went even further. They admonished those attending the Mass not to obstruct or interfere.


That was just the beginning. Outside construction crews, police and private security guards soon arrived and became an occupying force disrupting community life. These outsiders intimidated and threatened anyone that did not submit. This particular replay of “David and Goliath” was world news for a time. The people’s resistance was the subject of the award-winning Documentary “The Pipe” by Risteard O’Domhnaill. A number of books have also been written about this travesty, of note: “The Rossport 5” (interviews with jailed protestors) and “Once upon a Time in the West” by Lorna Siggins. One of the jailed protesters, local farmer Willie Carduff received international recognition when he was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007.

For a number of years activists from other parts of Ireland and Europe came to Erris (as the local peninsula is called in Irish) to protest in solidarity under the banner “Shell To Sea”… but eventually the cause faded from the news and slipped out of the public consciousness. The people of the community still have not given up but they feel forgotten and exhausted! “Little David’s of today seldom if ever prevail.” The Goliath of Shell is about to win again.

Along the way, Shell Oil acquired Enterprise along with the controlling interest of the Corrib Gas Project, as it is called. Shell has relentlessly applied pressure to finish the gas-line and processing plant. The Irish national government acquiesced and cooperated. Shell has pursued endless litigation in court case after court to get to silence objections. Shell ruthlessly advanced the investment in darker ways as well: bribery, intimidation, threats and physical assaults, by anonymous & masked goons. The targets are anyone that dare defy this neo colonial resource theft.

In August of this Shell formally requested (demanded?) final approval to open the high pressure pipeline and push the gas through the community & on to the processing plant. Everyone here now expects that final approval from the Irish EPA will come before the end of autumn. No public hearings are scheduled. A short public comment period, the only recourse provided, is quickly running out.

Back to Mary Robinson. Folks from “Shell to Sea” told me that she has refused all of their requests over the intervening years to meet and talk to them about the controversy. To my knowledge, she has never publicly spoken out on the issue. The community activists website has a story of what happened at the gala party to celebrate the release of her biography. The event took place in Ballina her hometown, which is but 20 kilometers from Kilcommon. Here is the URL for “Shell to Sea’s” account of what happened:


Who am I and how do I know these things? I’m a faculty member of the Communication and Media Department at Clarkson University in Potsdam NY. I am on sabbatical/holiday in the west of Ireland. While here I am team teaching a course back to students at Clarkson (The course is called Documenting Social Activism). My wife Marianne and I have been staying at the epicenter of the area. We have been getting to know and visiting with the people from “Shell To Sea.” I’ve been listening to their stories and sharing some of the experience, via Skype video conferencing, with my colleague, historian Jennifer Ball PhD and students back on campus in Potsdam NY.

Next Tuesday, September 22, 2015 will be exactly one year since Amy Goodman interviewed Mary Robinson during The People’s Climate March in New York City, September 22, 2014. I’ve submitted a comment to Amy Goodman & Democracy Now telling them this part of Mary Robinson’s history. At home she has done the opposite of what people who really care about climate justice say should be done. She is a “talk the talk” global hero traveling the world, but does not “Walk the Walk” at home; where she could do the most good! But the most important point is to once again show how Shell works and give voice to this powerless at risk community. I believe their last chance is at hand… And no one is listening!


If you would like to know more from me, contact me via email Or contact “Shell to Sea” directly. Their last ditch effort is an online petition to reignite world people pressure against Shell one last time before it is too late. Here is the URL:

Posted Date: 
7 October 2015