From Socialist Voice, February 2007

Book review

Their fight is our fight!

Mark Garavan (editor), Our Story: The Rossport Five (Magheramore, Co. Wicklow: Small World Media; ISBN 978-0-9554634-0-2; €12.50).

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it favours licensing the Shell-led consortium to construct its gas-processing plant at Ballanaboy in north-west Mayo. Shell to Sea protesters could be forgiven for greeting its decision with cynicism. They have scant grounds for confidence in the impartiality of establishment-related bodies.
     Planning permission, for example! In August 2001 Mayo County Council granted EEI—precursors of Shell—permission for an onshore gas-processing plant at Ballanaboy. In April 2003 the senior inspector of An Bord Pleanála, Kevin Moore, said that the processing plant was “the wrong project in the wrong place.”
     The county council’s original decision was overturned. Political pressure by Enda Kenny and Frank Fahy led in October 2004 to the board granting planning permission to Shell for the project it had turned down in the first place. Brendan Philbin’s view in this book of the skulduggery involved is revealing.
     Our Story is based mainly on interviews with the five local men who spent ninety-four days in Clover Hill Prison because they denied compulsory purchase of their land to Shell, and with their supportive wives. Never in the state’s history was a private company authorised to issue such orders.
     The human dimension of their opposition to Shell is spelled out in detail. It is a moving on-the-ground report of the battle of ordinary citizens against the forces that are transforming Ireland into a compliant fiefdom of profit-hungry international capital.
     The atmosphere created by Shell operatives as they attempted initially to bribe and win the confidence of Rossport residents is described in Phillip and Maureen McGrath’s contribution as “slimy and slithery.” Well-founded suspicions were aroused.
     As Vincent recounts it in his and Mary McGrath’s account, “we found out in the course of our research about the 1992 Licensing Terms and the deal that was done between Ray Burke and the oil companies that gave away the people’s natural resources of oil and gas for nothing. That only reinforced our resentment at what was going on . . . And here we are being exposed to a high-risk, high-consequence project with little or no gain for Ireland. So it was the combination of a whole lot of factors that was motivating us, but safety was the main concern.”
     It still is. Daily protests in Ballanaboy—in spite of the biggest deployment of gardaí in the state; €3 million is its price tag up to now—goes on.
     Not without risk! Garda behaviour in Rossport, especially that of the sinister black-clad “Protest Removal Group,” whose assaults have led to the hospitalising of peaceful demonstrators, men and women—could be a foretaste of what is in store for dissidents in the new corporate Ireland.
     Willie and Mary Corduff underline the conversion of the state apparatus into bailiffs of the new owners of our natural resources. Described here is the closing of establishment ranks—church, state, and gombeen class—to thwart the option of local residents for the safer but more costly shallow-platform technology to exploit offshore fossil fuel reserves. The health and safety of the local population is less important to them than the maximisation of Shell’s profits.
     A victory for Shell in Erris would be a victory for our most viciously anti-working-class elements, a signal that the popular will can be bent by force and by slanted media coverage—or non-coverage—at the whim of our new masters.
     The fight of the Shell to Sea protesters is a continuation of the struggle for a just and democratic Ireland.  In the conversation with Caitlín and Mícheál Ó Seighin, Mícheál puts the Rossport struggle in its wider context. “What kind of Ireland do we want for the people after us . . . Do we want to leave it to a new landlord grouping that the next generation or the generation after that are going to have to get rid of . . . a legacy after us that can only be solved by violence?”
     Mark Garavan, Shell to Sea spokesperson, in his introduction to this attractively produced book states that “the North Mayo protests were not simply defensive and reactive. They were also assertions of autonomy, participation and democratic rights.”
     The offer of full trade union support promised by the general secretary of the ICTU, David Begg, for the beleaguered Erris residents at the rally outside the Dáil to welcome the release of the Rossport Five was encouraging.
     But words need to be backed by action. Vigorous participation of the trade union movement in the present oral hearings to contest the EPA decision, for starters!

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