Taking on Shell’s pipeline plans

April 9, 2010

Sandy Boyer co-host of Radio Free Eireann on WBAI in New York City and a veteran organizer for Irish political prisoners, reports on the repression of organizers fighting to keep Shell Oil from installing a natural gas pipeline off the coast of their town.

IN A small rural town on the far west coast of Ireland, local people--mostly fishermen and small farmers--are fighting Shell Oil's attempt to install a high-pressure natural gas pipeline which would endanger their community and pollute their environment.

Shell wants to build a pipeline to take raw gas from a field over 50 miles off shore to an inland refinery. The pipeline would run through an unstable bog where landslides are common. If there were a leak, houses within 230 yards of it could burn spontaneously from heat radiation. People would have 30 seconds to escape.

Construction of the refinery has already poisoned the drinking water for 3,000 people. Emissions from the refinery would be dumped into the ocean, where they would damage whales, dolphins, fish and seabirds.

Local people have been opposing the pipeline deal since 2000. At first, they tried testifying at hearings, lobbying politicians and filing lawsuits with no success. By 2005, their Shell to Sea Campaign turned to direct action and civil disobedience. For a year, they stopped construction of the refinery by blocking the entrance to the construction site. Hundreds of people protested when Shell began to bring the pipeline from the sea onto the shore.

Members of the Shell to Sea Campaign march to Castlerea Prison, where activist Pat O'Donnell is being held
Members of the Shell to Sea Campaign march to Castlerea Prison, where activist Pat O'Donnell is being held (Shell to Sea)

Shell and the Irish government have responded to these peaceful protests with repression and violence.

The Irish police broke up the blockade of the construction site by beating people and throwing them into the ditch. When four farmers and their former teacher, Maua Harrington, refused to let Shell onto their land, they were imprisoned for 94 days. Shell's private security force, Integrated Risk Management Services, beat Shell to Sea activist Willie Corduff so badly that he had to be hospitalized.

Currently, Pat "The Chief" O'Donnell, a local fisherman and campaign leader, is serving a seven-month prison sentence for protesting the pipeline.

Ireland's Socialist Member of the European Parliament Joe Higgins visited him in prison and stated, "It is an outrage that Pat O'Donnell finds himself in prison at all. He is a victim of the criminalization of decent people involved in peaceful protest which highlights the handover of an entire natural resource to a multinational corporation."

Last year, O'Donnell's fishing boat was attacked at sea by masked and armed men. They tied up Pat and his crewman Martin McDonnell and sunk the boat. Pat and Martin were lucky to escape with their lives.

What you can do

For information about the Shell to Sea Campaign or to send a solidarity message to Pat "The Chief" O'Donnell, visit the Shell to Sea Web site or e-mail [email protected].

Pat O'Donnell has said that, "There's no law and order here. There's only Shell law." He is determined to go on fighting Shell. "All I am trying to do is protect my family and the seas that are our livelihood. My family has fished these waters for five generations--I have no authority to sell the rights to these waters."

O'Donnell's imprisonment has sparked protests throughout Ireland. There have been demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast. Large crowds have rallied outside Castlerea prison where he is being held.

The Shell to Sea campaigners are determined to go on, despite the violence and intimidation. They are demanding that the natural gas reserves be nationalized and used to fund public services. As Maura Harrington who has emerged as one of Shell to Sea's key leaders has said "This is worth fighting for and, if necessary, it is worth dying for."

Further Reading

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