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2008 overview of Shell to Sea campaign

Posted by KM on January 4, 2009

An in depth account of significant events in 2008 from someone involved in the community led campaign in County Mayo, Ireland to prevent Shell building a gas refinery and high pressure pipeline in the region. (Originally posted on UK Indymedia)

2008 has been a year of ups and downs for the Shell to Sea campaign, however generally the last months of the year have been very positive. This is a brief review of the year and a call-out for people to get involved next year when we expect a big push from Shell and the Government to again try to force this project through. At the moment, we are planning on the assumption that a pipe-laying ship (Solitaire or otherwise) will be back anytime from spring next year, to try to finally lay the offshore pipeline.

This year the area saw the switch of emphasis away from the refinery at Bellanaboy to Glengad where Shell wants to bring in the pipeline. While for about the first 6 months of the year people still turned up at the Shell to Sea trailer to show their opposition to the refinery, there wasn’t very much physical direct action trying to stop the progress there. I think that after all the peat was removed from the refinery, people generally resigned themselves to the fact that the refinery would be built. Also some people had drifted away from the campaign, some thinking that the outcome was inevitable, and others kept away because they were sick of being harried by Gardaí at Bellanaboy. Since I have come to area, a lot of people involved in the campaign immediately around the pipeline area have always said that it would come down to the land and when Shell tries to come on the land. I always thought this was a risky strategy as if the refinery gets built; there would be even greater pressure on the government to have it used, and not to allow a giant corporation waste its money. However, this is the situation that we find ourselves in, but it has to be said that it is also a risky situation for Shell and the Government. They obviously thought that if they got the project this far, then the local community would see the futility of their fight and give up. This has not happened and will not happen for this next stage of the struggle at least.

Glinsk Proposal

Around late April of this year, a proposal to move the refinery to a more remote onland location – such as Glinsk – was backed by a number of local Shell to Sea people. The proposal had been made the previous November by the 3 priests of the parish to Minister Eamon Ryan but he had made no response. This move was seen by many Shell to Sea members as incompatible with what they had been campaigning for and it created significant difficulties at the time. Pobail Cill Comain was formed by the local people who supported the Glinsk proposal and they have worked closely with Pobail Le Ceile which is a local business group working against the current project.

While this development created some tension at the time, I feel that a lot of people in the area now think that overall it has benefited the campaign against the Corrib Gas Project. The fact that there are 3 groups now working locally against Shell might at times seem like overkill, but it has added new directions and dynamic to the campaign too. It is interesting to see how the mainstream papers have taken to the new groups and now normally add Shell to Sea comments at the end of articles in the “also said” section of the article.


The big action of the year all occurred in the vicinity of Glengad where Shell & Statoil were planning to lay the offshore section of their pipeline. It is worth noting that this is the third attempt – and failure – to lay the offshore section. At the first attempt Enterprise Oil pulled out because of pressure locally, then in 2005 Shell & Allseas pulled the plug under pressure of a High Court case in the pipeline. This year, just before the pipe-laying was supposedly about to commence, a large section of the stinger broke off and the Solitaire eventually limped home for repair. How the stinger was damaged exactly remains a mystery.

What we do know is about the great resistance that took place around Glengad.

Maura Harrington went on a hunger strike from when the Solitaire entered Broadhaven Bay until it left Irish waters. This was a tough time for everyone involved in the campaign with a 24 hour vigil held for the 11 days outside the gates in Glengad where Maura stayed in her car while on hunger strike. Thankfully this ended with a happy outcome and Maura returned gradually to full health. One aspect that remained with me since this was the line from Maura letter to Allseas in which she stated the “people come and go in nano seconds; Place endures”. I feel that this statement represents a lot of why Shell and the Government have not got their way so far with this project.

Other great heroes of this episode were undoubtedly Pat and Jonathan O’Donnell and Kevin McAndrew who in their small fishing boats defied the world’s largest pipe laying ship and support vessels in-order to defend their livelihoods, property and area. Pat sought the assistance of Gardaí to prevent their lobster pots being damaged by the Solitaire, but instead the fishermen were arrested twice in 24 hours from his traditional fishing territory, and then released without charge. Pat and his son Jonathan lost approximately 150 pots to damage from the Shell fleet. It is worth noting that the fishermen had a legal right to fish in Broadhaven Bay, but in this instance the Gardai hypocritically abandoned the principle of “people’s right to go to work” so often used to break up peaceful protest at Bellanaboy.

Instead the Navy were drafted in along with the Garda Emergency Response Unit, Garda Water Unit and Kent Police (yes that’s English police) to stop the rowdy fishermen, locals, national and international supporters.

One interesting point was how some of the media seemed willing to accept that when it was fishermen fighting for their livlihood then the protest was in some ways acceptable but (implicitly) other members of the local community have less of a right to protest unless they are as directly affected.

In the meantime, members of Rossport Solidarity Camp and international supporters took to the seas and began harassing the Solitaire while it was up in Killybegs and disrupting Shell’s operations around Glengad. Again on at least two occasions we were extremely lucky that someone didn’t get seriously injured or killed when a digger operator continued working and ended up dropping tonnes of debris within feet of 2 protestors. Lots of other resistance around the time included lock-ons and reclaiming access to the beach (albeit temporarily) which was illegally being blocked by Shell fencing. Also a load of solidarity actions happened all around the world at Shell stations and Irish embassies, in places such as Galway, Dublin, Belfast, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Australia. In the US, I heard of a lady who went on a 3 day fast in solidarity with Maura Harrington’s hunger strike.

On the 22th of July, 13 people challenged the work that Shell were carrying out on the land just over the cliff-face to the beach on a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). They asked to see the legal permission for the work being carried out. Instead of showing any permission however Supt. John Gilligan had the 13 arrested and brought to Belmullet Garda Station where they were subsequently released without charge. However while in the Garda Station, one of the 13, Naoise O’Mongain was injured and subsequently mis-handled by Gardaí and is still on crutches to this day from the incident. These 13 arrests were the among the first of about 50 arrests that happened in course of the next 2 months in Glengad, every single one of whom were subsequently released without charge. In some cases the people involved weren’t even told they were arrested or what they were being arrested for.

Regarding the permissions for the land work that took place in Glengad, it turned out that on the 27th of June, Minster for Energy (& former Shell to Sea supporter) Eamon Ryan had given permission for the work in Glengad and exempted the first 100 metres or so (up to the valve station) of the on-shore pipeline from the planning process. However this permission had not been made available to the public, an omission Minister Ryan called an “oversight”.

A few days later, local people were pushed off a section of the Glengad beach by about 50 Gardaí and about 70 of Shell’s newly employed security force IRMS. Shell then proceeded to fence off about a 100m wide of the section of the beach and so the beach remained split in two for about 4 months. Inspite of Shell claiming in their work method statement that they would allow pedestrian access across this zone, no member of the public was permitted through the fences for about a 4 month period.

At first the security force IRMS (Integrated Risk Management Services) initially took to filming everyone who went down on the beach including young children and swimmers, however the bad publicity that this caused resulted in them being a bit more subtle afterwards.

The works on the site have now all been removed although significant damage has obviously been done to the SAC (water pollution, gravel & silt remain on the beach and churned up soil on land, but this has been totally ignored by National Parks & Wildlife (NPWS) and the Dept of Environment. Hundreds of tonnes of placed material fill were washed away, and the pollution could be seen, the fishermen say, for miles out to sea at times.

One moment I remember down on the beach was when I tried to point out to one of the Gardaí there, how both he and all the Shell workers were basically getting paid from the same purse. He seem to think that I was suggesting that Shell was paying him too. What I meant was that the taxpayer is paying both him (directly) and the Shell employees (indirectly). Because of changes made by Ray Burke in 1987, oil & gas companies can write off all their exploration & development cost against tax. So the tiny percentage of the Corrib Gas field’s worth that is to come back to the Irish Exchequer is being lessened by the amount that Shell are spending on security and community bribery funds.

Policing and the Courts

The decision not to prosecute anyone in connection with the resistance in Glengad this year presumably has to do with the shaky legal ground that Shell are on with some of their operations down there. Obviously for the fishermen, their arrest was totally unlawful as they were defending their property and if anyone should have been arrested it should have been the personnel on the Shell vessels. Also it was never made clear to the kayakers or swimmers who were arrested and in some cases illegally detained on the water what exact laws they were breaking other than not obeying a police officer. Also there was the case where people used sledges, car jacks and pipes to take down a number of sections of the fence along the beach in full view of the Gardaí and security. No prosecution has ever come out of this, also presumably because of Shell breaching their exempted permission regulations.

In the courts, it has been a torturously slow progress of the cases dating back to 06 & 07. When you see other cases in the District Court being dealt with fairly rapidly, it seems likely that part of the punishment for being arrested for a Shell to Sea protest is that the case will be dragged out significantly. However it should be noted that this is not always to do with the Judge and sometimes equally to do with delays sought from the defence side. Among some the cases heard this year, John Monaghan who had been found guilty of assault before Judge Mary Devins was found not guilty of assault on appeal. Ed Collins was found not guilty of an assault on a Garda from an incident from which he still has significant injuries. Pat and Jonathan O’Donnell and Enda Carey were found guilty on appeal of a Section 2 assault with sentencing being carried out in the New Year. Michael Healy was recently found guilty of obstruction, while he and 3 others who received significant injuries on the day in question were found not guilty of assault.

Also this year, Maura Harrington took a Judicial Review of Judge Devins’ decision not to allow Ms Harrington to have her own stenographer present to record her court case. The High Court found that Ms Harrington had a right to have a stenographer present at her own expense to record proceedings. Another Judicial Review was taken against Judge Devins’ by a Shell to Sea member which secured the right to get a copy of a court transcript from the hitherto unprecedented provision of stenograpy services at District Court by the Court Services (just for Shell to Sea cases).

Overall I think it’s fairly obvious that the judiciary are not acting independently and that Shell to Sea protestors are getting totally different treatment in front of the courts than if they had been arrested as individuals.

Road to Glengad

One success that Shell seem to have had of late is that the road to Glengad seems to be coming together for them. Mayo County Council (MCC) has really exposed themselves in the manner in which they have pushed this through though. They have resorted to bribing, threatening and bullying people and will now have a reasonably good road for Shell come the spring. They have been working on this 8km section of road for over 6 months now and bit by bit they have taken inches here and there. Recently they (both Shell & MCC) have also succeeded in turning one of the local landowners who had been against the road, with both threats and a significant amount of money. On the road the Road Safety Authority, EPA, Fisheries Board, NPWS, NRA, Ministers for the Environment and MCC themselves, were all made aware of breaches that occurred both in planning and laying of the road but each turned their back on these breaches.

Onshore Planning Application

The manner in which the onshore pipeline planning application has been handled by both Shell and RPS (pipeline planning consultants) to me illustrates both arrogance and incompetence in equal measure.Recently RPS withdrew Shell’s planning application under the Strategic Infrastructure Act for the onshore section of the pipeline saying that they will need to seek minor realignments to the pipeline route. RPS and Shell have been working on this planning application for well over a year now and the fact that they had to withdraw it at the final hour must have been some kick in the nuts for them. Basically my reading of the situation is that Shell still hasn’t managed to survey the approximately 3km section of the proposed pipeline route which lies on Rossport commonage. I believe that An Bord Pleanala were trying desperately to accept Shell’s planning application (illustrated by the fact that they were willing to receive further information from Shell on the 18th of November), but simply couldn’t because of the huge holes that existed in the application. These holes would no doubt have been exposed in an oral hearing by the mountains of knowledge that now exist in this area regarding pipeline siting.

In recent weeks Shell employees and AGEC (Applied Ground Engineering Consultants Ltd) geologists have been trying to get access to the Rossport commonage to do survey work but they have been prevented from doing so by vigilant Rossport residents. The fact that it is presently illegal for Shell to do survey work on the commonage doesn’t seem to deter Shell from trying – they have been caught red-handed on at least one occasion. In November 07, Shell sought permission to carry out the survey work on the commonage in Belmullet District court; however Judge Mary Devins found that the notice given by Shell was inadequate and so dismissed Shell’s application. The fact that Shell still went ahead with trying to carry out the survey work is surely contempt of court; a similar reason saw the Rossport 5 spent 94 days in jail.


Towards the end of the year Ministers Ryan & O’Cuiv organised a Forum for Development in North West Mayo, which wanted to link the Corrib Gas Project with the local development of North West Mayo. Shell to Sea chose not to part-take in the Ministers’ Forum for one because the Forum refused to discuss the siting of the refinery, the forcing of a raw gas pipeline on the local community and the great gas giveaway. Also the Minister’s Forum is only open to selected groups; therefore any individual who has questions about the Corrib Gas Project cannot attend just to represent their concerns. A separate Peoples Forum, (which was open to all and fully recorded) was held alongside the Minister’s Forum and was a significant success, with local people voicing their concerns.


The main reason for this article is to try to encourage people to get involved. Even though Shell has made progress on the refinery in Bellanaboy, they still face various significant problems in even getting the legal permissions from the more than compliant authorities to finish the project.

However I believe that the only way that this project will be stopped is if people get involved and make it unworkable for both the Government and Shell. This is still possible and the current recession gives us more opportunities to highlight the daylight robbery of our natural resources. When you hear local Fine Gael TD, Michael Ring starting to rail against the giveaway gas deal, I sense he’s guessing which way the wind is blowing.

Indications at the moment are that there will be another fourth push by Shell to lay the off-shore section of the pipeline next spring. At that time we really will need people to come and help us here in Erris but also to put as much pressure on the Government and Shell wherever they are.

Last August & September, even amid all the tension and worry regarding the Solitaire and Maura’s hunger strike, there was a really good pro-active atmosphere in Glengad and in particular at the Rossport Solidarity Camp, whose marquees appeared once more and attracted many people back to Glengad. The Rossport Solidarity Camp organises from a permanent house and office at Glengad where people are always welcome to come and stay and lend their support. We intend to set up camp again in spring as a solid base for action against Shell and any new attempt of theirs to progress their doomed pipeline laying efforts.

I feel it’s always good to end an article with a quote from a wise person. So in this case the wise person is Trevor Sargent (current Minister for Food & Horticulture) and the quote is from when he addressed the crowd assembled on the day that the Rossport 5 got out of jail.

“At this point I’d like to pay tribute to my parliamentary colleagues in the other smaller parties and independents who have kept pressure on this FF/PD/Shell – like – Government and who continue to stand firm with the people of Rossport. We’re united in fighting the good fight. And it feels good. Because we’re going to win.”

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