Arrival of pipe laying ship to raise tensions in Corrib gas dispute

Massive security operation under way as the Solitaire returns to Broadhaven Bay

The arrival of the world’s largest pipe laying ship, the Solitaire, in Broadhaven Bay as it attempts to lay a gas pipeline to connect the Corrib gas project’s inshore refinery with the gas field at sea has fuelled tensions in Erris this week.

The Solitaire’s previous attempt to get work under way on the controversial gas pipeline saw former schoolteacher and Shell to Sea activist Maura Harrington engage on a 10-day hunger strike last September which she only broke when the ship left Irish waters. According to officials the Solitaire left the area last September after sustaining damage to the stinger area of the ship before it could commence work on the pipelaying.

When asked by the Mayo Advertiser yesterday if she was planning on carrying out a similar protest again with the arrival of the Solitaire imminent, Ms Harrington told this paper she had no comment to make on the issue at this stage.

According to reports on Wednesday at 5.30pm two people who were swimming in the bay were arrested by gardaí. Ms Harrington also told the Mayo Advertiser on Thursday morning two men were arrested while they were fishing in the area. “This morning the chief [Pat O’Donnell] was arrested and injured after his boat was boarded by members of the gardaí and the Navy,” she alleged. “He was knocked over and was brought to hospital for treatment. His son Jonathan was also arrested on his boat at the same time.”

Ms Harrington went on to describe the area as like a prison at the moment, “It’s a total lockdown here at the minute, with the large numbers of gardaí and the Navy who are in the area, it’s a `dtate sponsored facilitation of the project on behalf of Shell. At a time when the International Monetary Fund are telling us doom and gloom stories they continue to give away the family jewels in relation to this project.”

Gardaí confirm arrests

Gardai confirmed to the Mayo Advertiser that two people had been arrested on Wednesday evening, one of whom was a juvenile who will be dealt with under the juvenile diversion scheme and the other had been charged and will appear in Belmullet District Court on July 8. They also confirmed that two men had been arrested on Thursday morning (June 25 ) for public order offences.

One of the men was due to be charged and appear before Westport District Court yesterday and the other was brought to Mayo General Hospital for assessment.

A massive security operation is planned around the arrival of the Solitaire, with between 250 and 300 gardaí drafted into the area to deal with expected protests, along with a Navy service vessel to accompany it. The Solitaire, if it gets its work under way as expected today, is expected to be out of reach of protesters within a week, as once the initial work has started it can lay pipes at a rate of 5km per day as it makes the 81km trip to the Corrib gas field.

Ms Harrington also hit out at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the project which was due to conclude yesterday. “The Solitaire is anchored 14 miles out and is just waiting for the formality of the oral hearing to be concluded and the dotted line to be signed for Shell. Eamon Ryan is the one man who can stop it all but he’s a gutless and useless Minister,” Ms Harrington said.


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