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Yoho I'm a Provo!, or the Sunday Shell Smear

by Terry - Rossport Solidarity Camp - 10th Oct 06
The main article on Shell to Sea this weekend was a repeat of Paul Williams earlier story in the Sunday World last weekend.  These stories concerned Provo intimidation. This is likely to be a recurring theme so it is examined in detail in this article. Shell to Sea was also smeared by the Sunday Times (again) and Saturday’s Mail. The Mail gave positive coverage earlier in the week. There were decent pieces in the Irish Times and in Village. This article just looks at the negative coverage.

Sunday World
Paul Williams, employee of Tony O’Reilly (owner of an oil and gas exploration company), starts off with allegations from an unnamed group and unnamed spokesperson of people “directly affected by the Corrib gas pipeline controversy” alleging “widespread intimidation” by Shell to Sea thugs.
It is not known if people “directly affected” include the owner, along with Exxon-Mobil, of oil and gas fields off the coast of Clare, aka Tony O’Reilly. There is no named person citing direct experience of intimidation with names, dates, and places, thus it is utterly meaningless. No charges have been brought although the first story alleging this, was, to my knowledge, in July 2005. The intimidation is linked to Sinn Fein and republicans.
Related Stories of Media Manipulation: Anonymous smear campaign aimed at undermining the right to protest | The Empire Strike Back! - White House & Indo Sic on to the Acquitted Ploughshares | What Is The Sindo and The Rest of O'Reilly's Empire Doing?
Allegations of Necromancy.
An unnamed “friend of the family” of Gerry Coyle, Fine Gael councillor, supporter of Shell’s project, and owner of a Statoil station, alleges that a man “with a ‘strong Northern accent‘” intimidated Coyle. Clearly with that accent the only question is Provisional, Continuity, Real or I.N.L.A.?
At this point things turn a little strange. An unnamed source mentions threats of war of independence “flying columns” returning to Mayo to “fight those who supported the controversial gas pipeline.”.
The prospect of long dead trench-coated corpses rising "Dawn of the Dead" style to stalk the boreens of Erris is a scary one. I always thought the place was more ‘The Wickerman’ than ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ though. I suggest this “friend of the family” spend more time in daylight. The article cites a picket of Coyle’s business neglecting to mention it is a Statoil station - and such have been picketed across Ireland as Statoil is a junior partner in the project.
Protect Erris from Greedy Gombeens. 
The article quotes Coyle, Hannick of the Council for the West, and ex-councillor Paddy Cosgrove. This is nothing new. It has long been the case the some clergy, a few businessmen, IBEC west, the Council for the West, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and local Chambers of Commerce - the local establishment essentially - have been supporters of Shell. For instance the Bishop of Killala and the then parish priest of Kilcommon went out to bless the rig years ago. For a long time the project has been facilitated by a sort of indigenous fifth column. It shouldn’t be surprising, in the 1970s local clergy and Mayo Fianna Fail lobbied to have a nuclear power plant built in Erris before Carnsore got chosen instead.
Sinn Fein or good protesters and bad protesters.
Cosgrove alleges “the campaign has been hijacked by Sinn Fein” and that “lots of protesters don’t realise that they are being used as pawns in a bigger game”, according to Hannick “there is a core group of decent people involved in the protest campaign but it has been hijacked and manipulated by Sinn Fein and others”.
To people who build their careers on manipulation, and whose positions are based on hierarchy, it must seem that ordinary people cannot rise up of their own volition, there must be a sinister mastermind or conspiracy. Moreover, if society is just, protests such as we have seen in Erris cannot be based on genuine grievance, they must be contrived by some subversive element (Jews, Cuba, Trotskyists, etc..).
This also has shades of good protester/bad protester. That is where you offer the moderates a few crumbs - an ear to power, less heavy policing, less media slander, and isolate and attack the radicals. Though in this case Sinn Fein are generally more in the moderate camp.
Mostly, however, this is simply calculated. They have to have something to justify the police presence. Hence intimidation and dark stories about republicans. The truth of the matter is that Erris, much like the rest of rural Ireland outside the border counties and Kerry, has lashings of deep green Fianna Fail/Wolfe Tones nationalism and very little in way of Sinn Fein organisation. Williams refers to two local members of Sinn Fein, and they are also the only ones I have ever met after being involved in this campaign heavily for over a year and a half and living in the area for almost a year and a half. So this is fantasy.
Not to say that it would somehow be illegitimate if there were more members of Sinn Fein in the area to be involved in the campaign. On Shell’s first direct attempt to get in the gates of the refinery site, they actually invited the media to be present, presumably in the hope of clashes. Having not been given that they are left with fantasy stories.
Williams is even better when he gets to the national campaign: “It has also emerged that Sinn Fein has taken direct control of all protests against Shell outside Mayo”. Emerged from your imagination perhaps?
The truth is all left groups, and many non aligned individuals are involved in the campaign, including Sinn Fein, who have played a largely positive role. Given that significant parts of the left have little sympathy for republicanism, and I include myself in those parts, we would hardly be marshalled into a Sinn Fein front. The fact of the matter is the campaign could do with more participation from Sinn Fein, from republicans of any other hue, or from just about anyone else thank you very much. The campaign isn’t run by any party or anybody, each local group is autonomous and there are open meetings.
Finally, it is criminally irresponsible of Williams to suggest that the national campaign is a creature of Sinn Fein when that campaign operates in Northern Ireland and when loyalist paramilitaries are still active there. The evidence that Williams produces is that “tickets for protest marches and meetings are being sold to ‘raise funds’ at Sinn Fein’s headquarters in Dublin”.
Yes Shell to Sea does use those premises. Though there is no such thing as a ticket for a protest march - we are not the first campaign in human history to run protests as ticket only events! We have also used the premises in Dublin of several environmental/conservation NGOs, the libertarian-left, the Communist Party of Ireland, and the ITGWU for meetings or to sell literature or to raise sponsorship.
Williams would do better to ask why it is that a rural community of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael voters in the wilds of Mayo (where Labour gets about 2% of the vote) has to turn to the left for support. Shell to Sea should resist any attempt to divide it along republican/anti-republican lines, or to witch hunt the republicans in its ranks.
The Sunday World also carried a full page add from Shell responding to the Shell to Sea campaign (again the add did not have the Shell logo).
The Sunday Times
“Shell to Sea leader receives a poor school report” The angle of The Sunday Times on the week that saw the biggest policing operation in Connaught in well …a long time was …wait for it… Maura Harrington’s record as a school principal aka base character assassination. Maura is also accused of being a “Shell to Sea leader”, when we don’t have any.
The article goes on to quote Sean Hannick and Paddy Cosgrove and ’unnamed sources’, much like a smaller version of the Williams piece. The Sunday Times grants Shell to Sea even greater powers of harassment than the Sunday World does though, apparently we are “harassing” Shell, those well known poor innocent victims.
This article attempts to counterpose Maura Harrington’s statement that she knows of no incident of harassment with Micheal O’Seighin’s statement that the Garda were attempting to provoke trouble, which doesn’t make sense. The overall impression of the Sunday Times piece is that there is a conflict in Mayo between two sets of natives, Shell gets the barest mention. The article refers to the “offshore Erris oilfield”, do they know something we don’t?
There was also a opinion piece from Liam Fay, entitled ’Corrib gas protesters are walking all over the supine Garda’. This is focused on “the rule of law”. Liam Fay’s earlier journalistic incarnation involved the really wadical activity of taking the piss out of the Catholic Church. Fay’s argument is "it’s legal so it’s right so it is". I remember Hot Press, Fay’s previous bolt hole, used to make a great song and dance about laws restricting sexual activity or drug use in conservative Ireland. While such can be of great importance to individual peoples’ lives, it is pretty marginal, indeed irrelevant, to the running of capitalism, nice to see that liberals, true to every prediction, know what side their bread is buttered when it comes to matters important to the economy.
The Mail
Saturday’s Mail was much like the Sunday World article. Another article on already addresses it.
An interesting difference between it and the Williams piece is that it counterposes the campaign against pylons in Bantry with the Shell to Sea campaign. The first being genuine and “wholly supported by residents in the area” (including the developer who lives in Bantry?), and the other not. The article claims support in its stance from Bantry campaigners who visited Rossport and Ballinaboy. Here is an Indymedia report from that visit for a contrasting view. There was also a small mention in the Mail on Sunday with Waghorne blaming Shell to Sea for tying up Garda resources.
The News of the World
This paper gave equal space to opinion pieces from Shell to Sea’s Mark Garavan and Shell’s Terry Nolan.
That was all I saw in Saturday’s and Sunday’s papers. In terms of both physical space and readership that is overwhelmingly a media hostile to Shell to Sea. The story is also not being covered to any great extent.
Obviously in the 2005 to the first half of 2006 period they (the ruling class as a whole) saw something popular with some genuine concerns that could be appeased with a few crumbs and that having failed they have changed tack. We can expect nothing more than robust policing and a hostile media in the future, but this is in line with previous predictions. It should also be noted that these current set of smear stories are independent of anything engaged in by the Shell to Sea campaign. In other words it doesn’t have a media friendly image to lose at the moment and hasn’t done anything to lose it.

Posted Date: 
9 October 2006 - 4:46pm