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(en) Ireland, Media: The British Guardian*, Shell meets its match in the Rossport Five

Date Mon, 01 Aug 2005 14:40:48 +0300

The residents of the tiny village of Rossport, in the north-west
corner of County Mayo on Ireland's Atlantic coast, have been
up in arms for almost five years now. They have spent that
time campaigning against a proposal by the petroleum giant
Shell to lay a pipeline through their community to carry
untreated gas from beneath the sea to a refinery 5.5 miles
inland. Their cause secured little or no coverage in the national
press until, at the end of June, five of them were jailed for
refusing Shell access to their land to begin work on the

Suddenly, the issue became one of the biggest news stories of
the year and, as the Irish Examiner called it, "a major public
relations disaster for the Shell corporation". The "Rossport
Five" were jailed at the specific request of the company, which
had obtained compulsory purchase orders for the land in
question - the first time in Irish history that such an order was
granted to a private company. The five will remain in jail until
they undertake not to obstruct the company.

"Shell officials misjudged the situation if they thought to
intimidate others by making an example of these men," the
Irish Times said. Indeed, July has seen huge rallies in support
of the men in Co Mayo and in Dublin, the picketing of Shell
garages nationwide, and round-the-clock blockades of the
refinery construction site.

"Their imprisonment," declared Fintan O'Toole in his Irish
Times column, "exposes the hypocrisy of the law, which holds
that property rights are sacred except when vast public
resources are being given away to powerful corporations, and
unimportant people object to having explosive materials
pumped through their lands." He then turned his attention to
the government: "It can recognise, however belatedly, that the
pipeline is unnecessary and unworkable ... It can pretend that a
sovereign, supposedly republican, state has half the backbone
of a few Mayo families."

The success of blockades in preventing further work on the
pipeline or refinery since the men were jailed has been
celebrated in some quarters as exemplary direct action.
According to Workers Solidarity, a monthly anarchist
newsletter, events had "made crystal clear that the only thing
that can oppose the strength of the state and the corporations
is people power ... It won't be easy, especially as Shell have the
forces of the state on their side, but people power has won
before. It can do it again."

The tradition of civil disobedience was also championed by
Eoin O Murchu in his column in the weekly current affairs
magazine Village: "Peaceful agitation for change frequently
involves breaking unjust laws ... It's what makes real
democracy function ... And isn't it because [Irish people] took
the law into their own hands historically that we have an
independent state?"

The British state came in for criticism following the shooting
by London police of Jean Charles de Menezes, in the mistaken
belief he was a suicide bomber. The incident prompted
comparisons with the treatment of Irish people in Britain
during the IRA bombing campaigns of the 70s. "As the
Birmingham Six and Guildford Four will testify, the British
police are a blunt instrument where counter-terrorism is
concerned," said the Irish Examiner. "Seemingly, the police
are now pursuing the kind of logic which put people behind
bars because they were Irish. Apparently the authorities have
learned no lessons from the IRA campaign."

The Belfast-based Irish News recalled killings by security
forces in Northern Ireland that "gave rise to accusations that a
shoot-to-kill policy was in operation here. The bitter legacy of
many of these incidents continues and the British government
should learn the lessons of the past."

However, the Evening Herald, while agreeing "Northern
Ireland was poisoned by ... shoot-to-kill," concluded that Tony
Blair "must tell the world that it is worth it".

As the week drew to a close, yesterday's statement from the
IRA on disbanding was eagerly anticipated. "It had better be
good," demanded the Irish Independent. "What it should say is
that they are going out of business. Just that ... The worst
outcome would be for the IRA, having made the effort, to fall
short of the mark required by political realities. They might
also try to squeeze one last concession ... Such a lack of vision
and generosity of spirit would betray the national interest and
the wishes of ordinary people, North and South."
* For further background articles regarding this case and
the action of WSM members within the struggle, please see

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