Ireland: Outrage over continuing jailing of Rossport Five

Socialist MP demands release of "people of great character and bravery"

Last month, we reported on the jailing of the Rossport Five, from Country Mayo, West Ireland, imprisoned for obstructing the laying of a pipeline by the Shell multinational company. Their continuing jailing has provoked outrage across Ireland. The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) participates in the national campaigns fighting for the immediate release of the five.

Below, we carry reports from Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP), who has spoken out; including in the Dail (Irish parliament) demanding the release of the Rossport Five, and who recently visited them in prison. Socialist Party members in Galway City, West Ireland., report on the local campaigns and Kevin McLoughlin looks at the issues behind Shell’s exploitation of natural resources, how the campaign to free the Rossport Five can be stepped up, and puts forward socialist demands, including the nationalisation of natural resources for the benefit of working people.

Outrage over continuing jailing of Rossport Five

On 31 August, at my suggestion, six independent Dail deputies and myself made a visit to the five jailed residents from Rossport, Co Mayo to extend solidarity and also to help raise the profile again of the issues which have forced them to take a strong stand against the Shell Oil Corporation.

We found the men in very determined mood. I thought back to 2003 when I spent a month in Mountjoy over the anti bin tax protests. After two weeks I was a bit restless and by the time the four weeks were up was more than anxious to get out. But the Rossport 5 have spent twice that amount of time in jail by this stage and there is no telling how long more they may be there.

They are obviously people of great character and bravery. As are their families who must feel their absence hugely at this stage.

That five decent men should be incarcerated by the Irish State at the behest of a major multinational corporation is an outrage. But, of course, that is what the institutions of the capitalist state do – implement laws that protect first and foremost big business interests. When the GAMA workers [see earlier reports on] looked to the High Court to assist them in their struggle for justice, incredibly the Court assisted the exploiter instead by quashing the Labour Inspectors’ report on the company’s exploitation racket.

Much pressure will be needed to win the battle against Shell. That pressure has to be stepped up. The trade union movement must be compelled to come strongly onto the scene. A determined campaign waged by the trade unions, joined tocommunities and activists around the country to protect the safety and security of the North Mayo communities, could force Shell back, and force the government to withdraw the support and planning consents that they have given to Shell. We must also force the cancellation of the licences, which give fabulous natural resources to big business for not a penny in payment to the Irish people and insist on the creation of a publicly owned oil and gas exploration and recovery company.

Galway campaigns against Shell

Many people brought into contact with Socialist Party

There is a sense of disgust and betrayal growing amongst people on the west coast at the taking away of the liberties of ordinary people, government representing business rather than the people, and the giveaway of Irish national resources. These are all issues that strike a chord with the people of Galway.

Shane Faherty, Socialist Party, Galway, Ireland

In Galway, Socialist Party members have been involved in ’Shell to Sea’ activities, such as the ongoing petitioning, blockades and protests. This has brought many local people into contact with the Socialist Party for the first time. It is an issue that many Galway people feel strongly on, as it is happening on the west coast and there is a sense of betrayal not only at the hands of central government but at the hands of local politicians such as Frank Fahy and Edna Kenny. What is becoming obvious is that government policy is running greatly at odds with public opinion, including the opinions of many of those who would have traditionally been supporters of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Free the Rossport Five!

Nationalise the Corrib Gas Field

At the end end of August, the High Court in Edinburgh imposed a €22 million fine on Transco for breaching health and safety regulations.

Stephen Boyd, Socialist Party, Ireland

Transco had been taken to court and found guilty of being culpable in a blast in Lanarkshire in December 1999. A family of four, including two children, were killed in the explosion caused by a gas leak under their home. This fine is the largest ever imposed in the UK under health and safety regulations. Transco owns Advantica the company appointed by the Irish government to carry out an “independent” safety review of the Corrib onshore pipeline, off Country Mayo, on the West coast of Ireland!

To say that this is an example of government incompetence is not only an understatement but it is also misleading. This government is not neutral in the battle between the people of Mayo and Shell, the oil multinational. “The government are not neutral in this matter but are an active partner of Shell”, Dr. Mark Garavan spokesperson for “Shell to Sea” campaign. This lack of neutrality is why the campaigners have correctly rejected calls from many, including Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte, for the government to appoint a mediator.

On 31 August, in the letters page of the ’Western People’ newspaper, Dave Aldridge PhD explained some of the consequences that would result from an accident in a high pressure gas pipeline: “The estimated fire ball zone from a rupture of the pipeline is 1,000 feet, the safe distance for fire fighting with a water wall spray due to the amount of radiant heat would be of the order of 4,000 feet (0.6 mile) with all buildings closer to the epicenter melted. While the extreme overpressure zone (blast zone) were the 3,500 tons of gas in the whole line to escape and detonate would be some 2.5 miles radius, and the detonation would probably be heard as far away as Galway and Longford”. It is no wonder that local people are concerned for the safety of their families and their communities.

The government has done everything it can to facilitate Shell in developing its onshore pipeline and absolutely nothing for the five jailed protestors or their community. The only reason that Shell have decided to not to process the gas at sea is to save money – to increase their profits. And, of course, this government is fully in favour of any measure that will increase the profitability of big business.

The leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has disgraceful played no role in fighting Shell or taking on the government. There is massive support for the Rossport Five and their community in Mayo. If the trade unions used their resources, tens of thousands of protesters could be mobilised for mass demonstrations against Shell and the government, to free the Rossport Five, and also to demand the nationalisation of the Corrib gas field.

If this gas field was publicly owned then the profits from the gas could be used to end the crisis in our A&E (hospital) departments, resolve the bed shortages, end hospital waiting lists, reduce class sizes, and build houses for the 50,000 people on housing waiting lists – instead if Bertie Ahern [the Irish Prime Minister] gets his way this money will go into the pockets of the billionaire shareholders of Shell, Statoil and Marathon!

Refine the gas at sea!

Public ownership of the Corrib gas field!

That the Rossport 5 are well into their third month of imprisonment destroys any idea that democracy exists for ordinary people in the South. Rights are being trampled in the rush to give away vital resources to multi-nationals like Shell.

Kevin McLoughlin, Socialist Party

The brave stand made by the community in Mayo, in opposing Shell and Statoil’s potentially hazardous onshore pipeline, contrasts to the anaemic position of the official opposition parties. The lack of any serious action from the trade union leadership in defence of this community, while not unexpected, is still a truly staggering disgrace.

Working class people throughout the country are outraged at what has happened. The issue is can that disgust be mobilised and harnessed to create enough pressure to force this government and Shell to retreat?

Most media coverage has focused on the continued imprisonment of the five men for obstructing the laying of the pipeline. However, the release of these men would not in itself resolve the issue. By transporting volatile, unrefined gas, the pipeline represents a real threat to health and safety. Given international experience these concerns are legitimate and the bogus independent reviews initiated by the government and designed to back up Shell, have no authority and will not wash. The latest review is due in early October.

The argument raised against refining the gas at sea is one of cost. Shell’s protestations on this score are laughable considering they got the gas for nothing, with no royalties due, and that the government will even pay for some of the infrastructure!

The rotten give away deal between the government and Shell must be challenged. They are privatising natural gas reserves and undoubtedly we will be given the privilege of buying this gas back in the future at a price Shell deems appropriate. In mid-August, the government went further and granted Shell licences to explore off Rockall – a space bigger in area than Northern Ireland!

The exploration, refinement and supply of natural resources, such as gas, must be organised on the basis of public interest not private profit. These resources must be under democratic public ownership, where measures would be taken to ensure the safety of people and the protection of the environment. The question of ownership and control of energy will become a vital issue in the lives of working class people in the years ahead. The plunder of the Corrib Gas Field should be a key issue in the Rossport battle, as it gives the opportunity to effect and generalise the base of support for the struggle.

The government and Shell are hoping to ride out the opposition. Whenever the construction of the pipe starts again, if they are met with a qualatitively bigger but equally determined mobilisation, the government and Shell would have a serious problem. If they attempt to use the police, the army or the courts to stop such mass action, it is very important that the campaign builds its support base and capacity to respond to such an attack.

If this crucial but difficult struggle is to be won, as many people as possible must be mobilised. Special initiatives to bring the issues directly into the working class and unions should be considered. Winning support for mass action, including the potential for walk-outs in schools, colleges, but crucially in workplaces, particularly if the state is used against protesters, would intensify the pressure on the political establishment like nothing else.

There will be a national demonstration in Dublin, on the first Saturday of October, to coincide with the re-opening of the Dail. It is possible that if the weeks continue to pass with the men still in prison people’s anger could grow. The basis could be developed not just for demonstrations but also for other types of mass actions that could exert a more constant pressure on the government. There are many different campaigns, groups and parties working on this issue, in many parts of the country. The campaigners in Rossport should consider convening a mass conference that involves not just those already active, but communities and trade unionists, to discuss the best ways to organise on the issue and the co-ordination of effort so pressure is maximised.

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September 2005