The ballad of Shell and Rossport

TO SAY that the Shell gas pipeline and terminal in north Mayo has been the subject of controversy would be to understate seriously.

To those not directly involved, the ongoing ‘debate’, which has regularly degenerated into violence with allegations of intimidation on both sides, has often seemed, like Northern Ireland in the seventies, to be one where it’s difficult to give either side unqualified support.

This could be said to mark a failure on the part of the Shell To Sea campaign; another case of the right side losing because it puts its argument histrionically rather than rationally and allows some - ie, those who would be better kept in the background, stapling placards or making sandwiches for visiting protesters - to be spokespersons for the campaign.

The ranting boys and girls of The Sunday Independent have been happy to do their bit to blacken the reputation of Shell To Sea. The ‘documentary’ by Paul Williams, aired on TV3 last year, which tried to paint the campaign as being the plaything of dissident republicans, was the sort of rag journalism one would expect from someone who now writes for The News of The World.

Lorna Siggins is a different kind of journalist and works with facts rather than bar stool opinions of either variety as can be seen from her new book on the subject Once Upon A Time In The West: The Corrib Gas Controversy (Transworld Ireland ).

On page 215 she speaks to Sarah Clancy from Galway about the violence Clancy personally witnessed being meted out to protesters by gardaí. Now, while I doubt Sarah and I vote the same way at elections, I believe her when she says she observed a Shell To Sea protester: “being flung to the ground, with first two, then one garda kneeling on his back” as they “pressed his face into the dirt, all the while hitting him with batons”.

There were at least four gardaí involved in this, Clancy says. This is not to paint the campaign as a bunch of angels. I know from personal experience that there are those of the activist left who are willing to use physical intimidation as a tactic and others who are willing to make excuses for such behaviour. In Once Upon A Time In The West, Siggins makes an angel of no one.

The facts Siggins has gathered lead her to be more sympathetic to the protesters than she is to Shell. That as neutral an observer as Lorna Siggins could come to this view should give middle Ireland pause for thought.

If it is true, as Shell To Sea claims, that a natural resource worth hundreds of billions of Euro has been more or less given away to Shell with very little benefit to the Irish exchequer, then this is a very serious matter.

If the Shell To Sea protesters are even half right, then there certainly could have been, and perhaps still is, an alternative to slashing social welfare and services to the disabled and all the other miseries the Colm McCarthys and Peter Sutherlands are currently prescribing for us. Go out tomorrow and buy this book. You can’t afford not to.

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