"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
Following events in Rossport yesterday, a narrative has emerged of violent protests including the use of a car as a battering ram. Comments from contributors to this site have thrown accusations at Shell To Sea, accusing them of attacking ‘busloads of workers,’ ‘committing criminal damage,’ and possibly using a car as a ram to injure Gardai. If we stick to facts and evidence however, we find that the only violence came from Gardai and that supporters of Shell To Sea showed remarkable restraint by failing to retaliate against the violent and heavy-handed actions of our “Guardians of the Peace.”
These are links to RTÉs coverage of the event on radio and TV and are the primary sources for the rest of the piece. There’s not much, but it’s the only visual footage we have. This is just a snapshot of the way the media frames issues to sideline and demonise dissent:
[Unfortunately I can’t link to the time-points so you’ll have to fast-forward.]
One of the most interesting feature of RTÉ’s coverage by Western correspondent Jim Fahy is his claim that Maura Harrington tried to drive through Garda lines (One News, 40s). The claim caused confusion amongst contributors to this site because none of RTÉs video footage showed any attempt to ‘propel’ the car through Garda lines or to use it as a “battering ram”. Surely if this event occurred then RTE would have showed the footage of this crucial event. The reason for its absence is simple: it never happened. Cars have however previously been used to block road access. The car was rolled up to the Garda line to cause a blockage, not to propel it into Gardai or to use it as a battering ram, it was a wholly non-violent act. In today’s Irish Independent—which has traditionally been hostile towards S2S—Brian McDonald states that Maura Harrington drove her “her mini-van right up to the line of gardai.” (The incident fails to receive a mention in the Irish Times.) This stands in contrast to RTÉ’s and Jim Fahy’s claim that she tried to “drive through Garda lines.” The only time we do see the car in RTÉ’s footage is when it is stationary. Jim Fahy’s comments leads people to hypothesize and jump to their own worst conclusions about what possibly might have occurred, to fill in the gaps themselves. If Maura Harrington did attempt to drive through Gardai, she would have immediately been arrested, eventually charged and the whole campaign discredited in the process.
Throughout RTÉ’s coverage, there is reference to “violent protests.” A viewing of the news at 1, 6, and 9 shows absolutely no violence from protesters. Despite being baton-charged (or strolled, as it has been dismissed as here), Shell To Sea protesters refused to react violently and not one punch or kick can be seen to be thrown in any footage. On One News at 1:32, the order comes from Supt. Joe Gannon to baton-charge protesters. The scene at the time the order is given, is a peaceful one with Gardai on the left, a reasonably gap, and then the protesters on the right. The Gardai are under no threat and their is no violence coming from the S2S side. Despite this, the order is given and a Garda, dressed in all black beside Supt. Joe Gannon, proceeds to whip out his extendible metallic baton, a much crueller and harsher version of the baton used by rank-and-file Gardai. The Gardai then proceed to baton charge protesters. Jim Fahy on Morning Ireland (45s) states that blows were “mostly” to the legs and arms but this is purposely selective language to downplay to actions of the Gardai; there were numerous blows to the head—as evidenced by the photograph above—along with pointed blows to the stomach. On One News (1:58), we see cowardly Gardai striking the legs of people with their backs turned who are walking away from them. (Also see Sgt. Conor O’Reilly on Six One at 1:55.)
In another marvellous display of journalistic excellence, Fahy on Morning Ireland says that he saw protesters ‘fall’ into a ditch. On Six One News at 2:23, a protesters is dumped on the edge of the road and then kicked by a Garda down into ditch (taken out of the 9 o’clock news) while at 2:47 on the same broadcast, another protester is thrown over a fence into a ditch. There is a clear difference between falling and being kicked or thrown down.
In today’s Irish Times, Supt. Joe Gannon states that the Gardai were “very restrained” in the face of “extremely violent resistance.” The revisionism rife within the Gardai never ceases to amaze me. Not one person was charged with anything following yesterday’s protest. These are part in a long line of baseless claims against S2S, some of which have been posted here by the likes of cf, who go on about protesters “who commit criminal damage.” In fact, an injunction was successfully taken out against Corrib Cop Sgt. Conor O’Reilly for criminal damage of private property amongst other things. McDowell, of course, is leading a one-man provo witch-hunt, which basically only stops short of blaming S2S for the Omagh bombing and the Dublin Riots.
The actions of protesters on the blockade, while illegal, are wholly non-violent, standing in the long tradition of non-violent civil disobedience from Rosa Parks to Gandhi. Rather than being criticised for being violent, protesters should be congratulated on for remaining non-violent in the face of Garda aggression. If Gardai continue with these actions, it’s only likely that there will be more ugly scenes to come.