Over 2,000 people took to the streets of the Irish capital, Dublin, last Saturday to celebrate the release of five Rossport men who had been jailed for 94 days because their government has become a mouthpiece for the oil and gas companies.
Micheal O Seighin, Willie Corduff, Phillip McGrath, Vincent McGrath and Brendan Philbin were jailed on 29 June for standing up to the oil multinational Shell.
The men have vowed to continue their fight until Shell abandons its plans to lay the pipeline. Willie Corduff said, “We will do anything to save our land and our livelihoods. We are desperate and we are weary but we won’t give up.”
They were imprisoned indefinitely for breaching a court order. This was to stop them preventing Shell accessing their and their neighbours’ farms to construct a huge oil pipeline.
Their campaign has inspired tens of thousands of people across Ireland — with pickets of petrol stations across the country in the week leading up to last Saturday’s protest.
By processing gas inshore, Shell will reduce its operating costs by 40 percent a year. But the pipeline will be within just 70 metres of the nearest homes.
At the start of the summer mass pickets halted all work on the development, and Shell have recently announced a suspension of all work until next year.
According to Maire Ni Seighin, daughter of Micheal O Seighin, “This still does not constitute justice or democracy.
“It’s crazy. The whole thing should never have happened. Shell has always said that they want to be good neighbours. But good neighbours don’t jail their neighbours.
“We are calling on everybody who believes in justice and democracy to support us and to place the responsibility for this entire mess at the hands of the Irish government.
“It is they who granted the permission to this consortium. It is time for them to start acting in the interests of ordinary people, and not those of the big multinationals.
“Democracy has failed us and failed each and every person in Ireland. It’s a terrible shame but we have to do this. We’re doing what the government should be doing, protecting the area, and they haven’t done that.”
In 1992, when he was Irish finance minister, current prime minister Bertie Ahern cut corporation tax on oil and gas production to 25 percent, the lowest in the world. Companies were also allowed to write off all costs going back for 25 years.
Special legislation was put in place so planning permission was required only for refineries, not for pipelines.
State companies sold land for Shell’s refinery and the “independent” consultancy firm hired to do a risk assessment on the pipeline was part owned by Shell.
Mary Corduff, wife of Willie Corduff, said, “Nobody can trust what Shell says. All over the world they have lied to ordinary people. They carried out work on the pipeline when they claimed nothing was happening. Just the other morning at 5am they sneaked onto a site to carry out work.
“The council and government are not doing anything in the people’s favour — they are acting for Shell. It is just the powers that be forcing their way onto small communities in Ireland.
“There is no democracy here. It started with health and safety, but now it’s also about the bigger picture.
“The government gave away Ireland’s resources and the Irish people are getting nothing from the deal. While we struggle with shortages in our hospitals and schools, our resources have been given away.”
Dr Owens Wiwa, brother of the executed writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, spoke at the demonstration.
He said, “It gives hope to the African people... to see that Shell can be made to back down. This fight is ongoing but the Rossport Five have won an important battle.”
In 1995 nine activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were hanged by the Nigerian government for daring to criticise the operations of Shell in Nigeria.