Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shell vs Rossport, Ireland

This is view of the waters edge near Rossport, Ireland. This is the beautiful unspoiled countryside the villagers are fighting over.

What is important enough to cause you to go on a hunger strike? What reason could possibly be so powerful to make someone determined enough to carry a hunger strike to the ultimate end: either one side backs down or one side dies? Is there anything you feel strongly enough about to sacrifice your life for? Maura Harrington felt strongly enough about an environmental problem about to take place in her little Irish village to do just that.

This is the story of Maura Harrington and Shell.

The village is Rossport in County Mayo, Ireland and the company is the multinational oil company Shell. The residents of Rossport and Shell have been locked in battle for eight years now. Shell wants to build a pipeline from an offshore gas extraction outfit through or near Rossport and on to an onshore refinery.

This issue has caused a bitter rift in the village. Feelings run high and five men (the Rossport Five) have served jail time and gained notoriety for blocking Shell’s access to their land, a protest camp has taken root near the village, fishermen are out in their boats trying to face down Shell’s machinery and Maura Harrington started her hunger strike.

As local campaigner Terence Conway says, "The days before we were fighting this seem like childhood memories now. It just goes on, day after day after day."

Despite the fact that the onshore route is yet to be decided, this summer the villagers could only stand and watch as Shell began to lay the hated offshore pipeline. Shell now has permission to lay offshore pipeline through the waters of Broadhaven Bay, on which the village of Rossport sits, to the land. Shell’s ship, the Solitaire, was positioning itself to do that.

Ms. Harrington, a former headmistress, has always been opposed to the onshore pipeline believing Shell should build an offshore refinery. She sent word of her intended hunger strike to the commander of the Solitaire. Her statement was simple: if the ship entered the bay she would begin her hunger strike continuing until either the Solitaire left the bay or she died.

"What kind of country are we living in?" she said during her strike. "This part of the world was such a beautiful place; and, it is painful - physically and emotionally - to see what has happened here with the construction work. So I have put my life and death into the hands of the Solitaire."

Shell removed the 400 m (1312.34 ft) Solitaire after 10 days ostentatiously for repairs. While Ms. Harrington claims she trusts Shell “about as far as I can throw the Solitaire”, she decided to call a halt to her strike.

In a quote to The Observer, Ms. Harrington said, “I always said this would end in one of two ways. I'm happy to say that it ended the way I wanted it to, thank God.”

The County Mayo-born environmental campaigner said the Solitaire's departure was a victory for herself and fellow campaigners. “This has been a battle won; although, we are engaged in a long war with Shell about this pipeline. It isn't over; but, yes, this was a victory,” said Ms. Harrington.

She added: “The fast was the culmination of eight years of campaigning. It reached the point where I had to engage in the ultimate form of peaceful protest. That is how strongly we all feel.”

Maura was a small woman when she began her fast; but, she had the inner resolve of the headmistress she had once been to see it through. Describing her ordeal, carried out the fast at Glenagad beach, by the headquarters of the pipeline project, she says, “Strangely enough, the hardest days were when the weather was fine. I felt much weaker when the sun was shining and the heat was up. It was then I felt dehydrated the most. The days of cold, rain and wind made it easier to cope. I missed two big parties: my retirement from the school and my 55th birthday. When I build up my strength I will celebrate them again.”

Gotta love that fighting Irish spirit.

Maura says the most shocking and disturbing incidents were the presence of so many gardai deployed to protect the headquarters of the pipeline project. “During my 10 days out in front of the pipeline site I was surrounded by gardai even though my protest was entirely peaceful. This kind of heavy-handed security shouldn't be happening in a democracy.”

Last weekend her son and three others were arrested during a Shell to Sea protest at Glenagad beach. The protests were organized in solidarity with Ms. Harrington’s fast. The result: The Irish government deployed the navy to the area to protect the Solitaire.

Ms. Harrington paid tribute to other anti-Corrib protestors such as Pat O’Donnell, the Donegal fisherman who kept a close watch on the Solitaire from his fishing boat while the ship was in Killybegs (waters off Rossport).

“Pat and his son fought the battle on the high seas and it was as important as our battle here on the ground in Mayo. This victory was as much about them as it was to do with my protest,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the oil giant said, “The vessel will remain in port while a further assessment of factors including operational, technical and weather issues will be completed. This program still requires a suitable weather window for successful completion. Separately, a special diving support vessel has been deployed to Broadhaven Bay to assist in the salvage of the 12-metre long, 80-tonne section of the Solitaire's pipe-laying equipment. This piece of equipment, which became detached from the vessel on 10 September, (2008) is currently lying on the seabed in Broadhaven Bay, Co Mayo and will be removed and disposed of for safety and environmental reasons.”

The spokeswoman refused to comment on whether the Solitaire would return to Irish waters. They also refused to comment on Maura Harrington and her hunger strike.

Maura vows to fight to the death if necessary to keep the pipeline out of Rossport.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To see videos on the protests against Shell in Ireland see youtube.com/shelltohell

and for up to date news check out indymedia.ie/mayo

Shell plan to move in to the village of Rossport itself sometime next year- help is always welcome either on the ground in Ireland or wherever you are in the world (Shell is a big company).