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Report on Shell to Sea

Transition Heathrow



On the far west coast of Ireland in County Mayo, a rebellion is still brewing against plans for a mega gas pipeline project orchestrated by oil giant Shell. Last week two members of Transition Heathrow made a solidarity visit to the local campaign, here is their report.

Within moments of cycling down the road past the Corrib Gas Pipeline site near Rossport, Ireland, we found ourselves being tailed by a security car, while two frantic looking security guards stood alert by one of the entrances into the site. We had not planned any direct action, we were just on our way to the Rossport Solidarity Camp for a short visit.

The camp have packed up for the winter and moved into a house down the road generously donated to them by a local resident. The house is now the main hub for the campaign, where all electricity is powered by a wind turbine and the vegetable garden out front provides food for the campaigners. This was where we arrived and met the 9 or 10 activists who are sticking it out for the winter.


Donkeys guarding Shell’s compound


The Problem

Local resident Pat – who like most people round there has lived in the area all his life, as his family had before him – invited us into his house for some local mackerel and explained to us his reasons for opposing the Pipeline. Probably top of the list is a sense that local people have never been consulted on the plans, despite the enormous implications for life in this once-tranquil corner of the world. Fishing is an essential part of the local culture and economy, and faces devastation by the pipeline as fishermen lose access to waters they have always sailed. Access to the beaches and boglands is also being undermined, with fences being erected along the shoreline where once people went collecting cockles. And to cap it off, Shell has been awarded the right to compulsorily purchase property from locals for its pipeline route – the first time a private body has been awarded this power in Ireland. The traditional and legal rights of locals have been trampled over in the name of private profit.

The technique of gas extraction that Shell is using is experimental, bringing raw, unprocessed gas across the land rather than processing it at sea. If something went badly wrong, people living within a quarter of a mile of the compound would be immediately killed – you can bet Shell didn’t tell anyone that while they were making their case. And their plans for a safety valve rely on technology that by their own admission hasn’t been invented yet.

To add insult to injury, the project will not even benefit the struggling Irish economy. Due to a deal struck in 1987 between the then Prime Minister and a number of oil giants, Ireland gets hardly any of the money generated from the project – endemic political corruption has been blamed for this £600 billion giveaway.

Unity and Divisions

In an inspiring demonstration of community strength, local action has already delayed the pipeline by 12 years. It is so controversial that in 2005, 5 locals went to jail for 94 days after breaching an injuction against protest. But, in moves highly reminiscent of BAA’s treatment of the people of the Heathrow villages, Shell has played the community off against each other in order to weaken the resistance. Their tactic worked to some extent. All the local people we met talked about the “split in the community” that was created by Shell’s dirty tactics. One local even said that without this “split” the campaign would have been won by now.

Lorries held up in roadblock demonstration


Instead, Shell are busy at work every day trying to complete the project. They have just got the Bore Hole machine to the site, which will enable the start of the pipeline through the sea to where the gas is. If plans continue at the current rate it is expected they will be reaching the gas by around 2015 – leaving plenty more time for direct action, which continues on a weekly basis. In the time we were there, a roadblock demonstration took place and 5 people were in court from a previous action a few months ago. The resistance continues, and those people we had a chance to chat to were inspiring examples of endurance and strength in the face of corporate greed and destruction backed up by state violence.

Posted Date: 
19 November 2012