Ireland: Free the ‘Rossport Five’

Campaigners against multinational’s exploitation of natural gas jailed

It is highly instructive to contrast the High Court’s treatment of the five residents of Erris, north Mayo, imprisoned at the behest of Shell with how the same court dealt with the multinational Turkish based construction company GAMA [see previous reports on GAMA workers’ struggle on this site]

Michael Seighin, Willie Corduff, Brendan Philbin, Philip McGrath and Vincent McGrath were dragged before the High Court because they were not content to allow this major multinational company to put a highly pressurised pipeline for untreated gas close to their homes with the consequent risk of explosion to themselves, their families and their communities.

I was in the High Court on the day that these men were imprisoned. The President of the High Court was not only threatening to jail these men but "every landowner in Mayo" should they not obey his orders. The Rossport Five, as they have come to be known, were then bundled off to Cloverhill Prison when they were not prepared to say that they would give up their protest. In fact, it was quite reminiscent of how Socialist Party Councillor Clare Daly and I, together with 20 other anti bin tax protestors, were treated by the High Court in the course of the autumn of 2003.

When the Labour Inspectors at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment proposed to publish a report of their investigation into worker exploitation on GAMA construction sites, GAMA secured a High Court injunction preventing this publication until a court hearing was held into whether the Department had the power to publish such a report. This injunction was given at a critical time in the struggle of GAMA workers against the slave regime that they had endured of 84 hour working weeks and pay rates of €2.20 per hour. The publication of the report, at that time, would have assisted that struggle and assisted the workers in achieving justice. However, the High Court only facilitated GAMA.

When it came to the High Court hearing of the case, the judge in question decided that neither the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, nor the Department had the power to commission such a report for publication and, therefore, she quashed the report. This means that the report could never legally come into the public domain. If the GAMA workers had depended on the institutions of the Establishment, such as the High Court to secure justice, they would still be in the grip of a ruthless slave machine. Despite the fact that the judges had the report into the blatant and flagrant abuse of labour law by GAMA, they choose to make no comment on this but gave the entire balance of convenience to the exploiter.

In the case of the struggle by the north Mayo community against Shell, the lesson is really the same. It is ‘people power’, both in Co. Mayo, and around the country, that can force the government to intervene in this situation. The government has to be pinned with full responsibility for the situation which has emerged, including the jailing of the residents. If there is a sufficiently widespread protest movement, then the government will be forced to intervene.

The entire natural gas wealth off the coast of Ireland is being handed entirely too multinational corporations. The controversy that is now developing because of the brave stand taken by the north Mayo community should be used as an opportunity to stop the process of the robbery of our natural resources. The obvious way to use the natural resources would be to set up a state exploration and production company for natural gas, to assemble the necessary expertise to make an independent assessment of what resources are available, and then to harness those resources in the interests of the majority of the Irish people, while ensuring that the environment is protected.

This article appears in the new issue of the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, Ireland.

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August 2005