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To Shell and back in beautiful Mayo

By: 
Pádraic Mac Coitir - Anderstown News

The coast of Mayo is one of the most spectacular and breathtaking in Ireland. But for all its stunning beauty there is a part of the county that is a blight on the landscape. 

A number of years ago off-shore drilling was carried out to determine if there was oil or gas. Gas was indeed discovered and the contract to extract it was given to Shell. Fianna Fáil was in government at the time and instead of making a deal with Shell which would benefit the economy of the country, they allowed the gas to be taken free of charge. Shell thought it was then a simple matter of drilling at sea and pumping the gas through pipes to a refinery at Erris. 

Since that time many locals and others who are supporting them have been protesting against Shell. Men and women have been imprisoned – the most famous being the Rossport Five and Maura Harrington. Gardaí and private security firms regularly embark on serious physical attacks on protestors in their bid to protect Shell’s interests. 

Due to this ongoing threat to the environment and the effect it’s having on local people’s lives, Shell to Sea campaigners have set up a camp close to Glenamoy and invite support from political parties and sympathetic organisations. I first went down in 2008 and was surprised at how aggressive the cops were against protestors involved in a passive campaign. Men, women and children were hauled off the road and literally thrown into ditches. Some were arrested and charged with spurious offences – many of the cases were later thrown out of court.

Recently four of us from Belfast drove down to the camp and on our way there we stopped off at sites commemorating the 1798 rebellion and I couldn’t help wonder what those revolutionaries would make of the situation 200 years later. 

 

Benders

When we reached the camp we were warmly welcomed by the campaigners, who live in tents known as benders, and maintain a vigil close to Shell’s own compound. We were shown around the camp and were told that they are self-sufficient with their own running water and electricity which is powered by a small wind turbine. Our quarters were to be one of the benders and although looking small from outside, they were quite roomy and comfortable inside.

The four of us then took a short walk to Shell’s compound where the security firm are based. They were behind a fence and although they tried to look menacing they were in fact comical with the same white hard hats, sunglasses and hi-viz coats. They are protecting excavators and diggers which are being used to build columns on which to lay the pipes which are the cause of lengthy protests.

We wanted to meet locals and get a sense of their feelings about Shell and what they’re doing to their community. So where better to meet them than in one of the local bars. Although it was quiet when we went in there were some who told us of their anger at how the government, and especially Shell, were treating them with contempt. 

Back at the camp we had a dinner of lentils and seaweed. Although it may not sound too appetising, I thought it was very tasty. Other supporters had turned up and it was encouraging to hear how willing they and their friends were to join the protest. Apart from people from other parts of the country there were those from England, Germany and North America. We all have one have thing in common and that is to let as many people as possible know that the Shell to Sea campaign will go on as long as Shell, and the government intend to lay pipes to bring gas ashore instead of having it offshore. I would encourage anyone who is interested in this campaign to make at least one visit to this most beautiful part of our country.

Posted Date: 
13 September 2011