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O’Brien criticises Garda operation in Bellanaboy

19 April, 2011 - by Jonathan O'Brien TD


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on a Sinn Féin Private Members’ Motion on Ireland’s oil and gas reserves, the party’s Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien criticised the policing of the protests in Mayo against the Shell Gas pipeline.

Deputy O’Brien said:

“As I have referred to, the policing of the protests in Mayo has raised some serious issues. On the states side we have the example of Gardai acting in a hostile manner with a conservative estimate of the cost of all of this running to over €20 million.

“Protestors have been harassed and followed and searched and of course there have been the proven cases where individual Gardai have, allegedly in a joking way, threatened women with rape. That not only took place in the most recent incident but also on another occasion where a local woman was subject to similar abuse and according to others such sexual intimidation is quite common.

“Apart from the Gardai there are private security operatives who seem to able to act with a high level of impunity. Shell’s own security company IRMS has been involved in a number of incidents including physical assaults and photographing children undressing on the beach at Glengad. They have also taken photographs of people through the windows of their homes.

“All of that is of course designed to intimidate and as the recent film The Pipe has shown, many local people feel that they are living in a community under siege.

“The calibre of the sort of people involved in providing security has also been called into question. One person who worked for the company at Glengad later turned up in Bolivia where he had dealings with members of a fascist group that was allegedly planning to kill President Morales.

“There was also the case of the undercover British policeman Mark Kennedy who spent several days at Rossport in 2006. Kennedy’s task was to infiltrate anti globalisation and environmental groups and we have still to receive a report on what exactly he was doing in this country, on whose behalf he was working and whether the Gardai were aware that he was here.” ENDS

Full text of Deputy O’Brien’s speech follows:


Apart from the economic issues which have been dealt with by Martin and Gerry, the Corrib project has proven to be a highly controversial one in terms of wide opposition to the pipeline in Mayo.

Apart from concerns about safety and the environment a lot of the people involved have based their opposition on the fact that as things stand the Irish people will gain little from the gas coming on shore.

The reaction of the consortium and the state to the campaign has been heavy handed, and we had more evidence of this recently with regard to Gardai joking about raping two of the protestors.

In 2005 we had the disgraceful jailing of five men from Rossport after Shell took an injunction preventing them from engaging in legitimate protests at the site of the pipeline as it was then proposed, being located as it was in dangerous proximity to peoples homes.

Since then Shell have made some alterations to the route – something which at the time they claimed they would not be able to – but many in the local community remain strongly opposed to the pipeline for which consent was given on the day of the election by former Minister Pat Carey.

Although both Fine Gael and Labour both protested at the manner in which the consent was given, the Government has stood over the approval.

That has certainly done nothing to reassure those who are locally and nationally still opposed to the project and the campaign of opposition continues.

As I have referred to, the policing of the protests in Mayo has raised some serious issues. On the states side we have the example of Gardai acting in a hostile manner with a conservative estimate of the cost of all of this running to over €20 million.

Protestors have been harassed and followed and searched and of course there have been the proven cases where individual Gardai have, allegedly in a joking way, threatened women with rape. That not only took place in the most recent incident but also on another occasion where a local woman was subject to similar abuse and according to others such sexual intimidation is quite common.

Apart from the Gardai there are private security operatives who seem to able to act with a high level of impunity. Shell’s own security company IRMS has been involved in a number of incidents including physical assaults and photographing children undressing on the beach at Glengad. They have also taken photographs of people through the windows of their homes.

All of that is of course designed to intimidate and as the recent film The Pipe has shown, many local people feel that they are living in a community under siege.

The calibre of the sort of people involved in providing security has also been called into question. One person who worked for the company at Glengad later turned up in Bolivia where he had dealings with members of a fascist group that was allegedly planning to kill President Morales.

There was also the case of the undercover British policeman Mark Kennedy who spent several days at Rossport in 2006. Kennedy’s task was to infiltrate anti globalisation and environmental groups and we have still to receive a report on what exactly he was doing in this country, on whose behalf he was working and whether the Gardai were aware that he was here.


On the wider legal issues connected to Corrib and the oil and gas sector generally, there are grounds for fully investigating all aspects of the granting of licenses, changes to the revenue terms and the transfer of state forestry lands at Bellanaboy to the consortium as the site of the refinery.

As was said at the time of the publication of the Flood Tribunal report which uncovered evidence related to Ray Burke which led to him being jailed on corruption charges, it’s terms of reference ought to have been extended.

Ray Burke was the Minister who was responsible for giving away the state’s share in oil and gas funds. Given that we know that he met privately with oil company executives against the advice of senior officials in his department and given what we now know about his activities in relation to planning, a full investigation ought to be made into his role in all of that as well.


In the light of all that there is a case to be made as we propose in the motion that a full review be conducted into all licenses that have been granted and that the consents for Corrib and others be revoked pending the outcome of such a review.

The Russian government did that in 2007 when it re-established a majority state holding in several projects, including one involving Shell, because of environmental violations and suspicions about the manner in which licenses were granted and operated.

The only review approaching the type that is required that has been published was that by the Centre for Public Enquiry. Of course the CPI then became the centre of a politically motivated controversy and was forced to cease operations.

Perhaps that was a coincidence but even so there can be no doubt but that’s its intention to investigate other murky areas of Irish public life was not exactly welcomed with leaps of unbounded joy by members of the political and economic elite.

The report on Corrib makes for interesting reading. Among its key findings it concluded that the pipeline as proposed carried a high risk of failure and that the Quantified Risk Assessment in which planning approval was granted was inappropriate to the type of pipeline.

The report also outlines the unhealthy and unusual access which company officials had to those in power and their timeline demonstrates how crucial favourable decisions often followed quickly after meetings with Ministers.

And of course this was during the era of the Galway tent and the fact that Enterprise Oil were regular attendees and facilitators. There was also the fact that Kevin Moore of Bord Pleanala recommended the rejection of the project on environmental and safety grounds. Of course that was ignored.

And again, the subsequent decision by An Bord Pleanala followed a meeting between members of the Bord and leading oil company officials from Shell, Statoil and Marathon.

Kevin Moore also questioned the sale of Bellanboy Wood for the 400 acre refinery site. He pointed out that the consortium required such a single site under sole ownership and that just happened to be the one owned by the state forestry company Coillte. Questions also remain to be answered about how all of that came about as well. Legislative steps were then taken to ensure that a private company could build on privately owned land. All of this took place even before the application for planning permission had been submitted.


There are many other items of interest in the report and it is one that I would recommend that anyone interested in this area should read. I also believe that it provides a good model for the type of review which we propose in our motion.

I have already referred to President Morales of Bolivia. One of the reasons why he was a target for the extreme right was because of his policies towards the multi national exploration companies.

Morales had nationalised Bolivia’s mineral resources and the basis of that was a referendum which in 2004 passed a proposal to take control over those resources.

Perhaps that is something that we ought to do here in order to embody constitutionally what the founders of the Republic through the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme clearly intended. That is to establish and guarantee the Nation’s sovereignty over “all its material possessions, the Nation's soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation.”


That was the vision of the Republic and it is one that all governments of this state since 1922 have failed to honour.

It is one, however, that is worth reminding ourselves of particularly at this time when the state’s sovereignty has been further undermined by the conditions attached to the bank bailout and the IMF/EU austerity programme.

Such a constitutional change would also ensure that when pressure is applied, as it surely will be, for the sell of of state companies, including the 7% of the land under the control of Coillte, that we will have protections built in. Indeed I understand that the Labour Party’s sister party PASOK, who are now under pressure to sell off a further €43 billion in state assets, passed such a referendum in order to protect public lands and beaches.

I will conclude then by asking all Deputies to give consideration to this motion and hope that it will get support beyond my own party’s TDs.

We also intend to follow this by having similar motions proposed at local councils and will be campaigning publicly on the issues concerned to build support for the proposals that we have outlined here.

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