On the frontline Protester Maura Harrington is restrained by Gardaí.
Seeking people of wisdom in Corrib gas dispute
It is past the time for tit-for-tat judgements. The call and response mechanisms of the pro and anti press releases in the current Corrib gas dispute are but a pale reflection of the project’s history. It has been steeped in incompetence, drowned in arrogance and withered in justification. The longer it goes on the sadder it gets. No one can rejoice to see members of a community dragged from the middle of the road and thrown on a ditch, as they disrupt workers’ routes to the refinery site.
On the other hand there is the call that workers must be allowed free access to their place of work. All sides can claim some slice of the truth. For those who have become ‘Corrib watchers’ this project was always going to end up like this. It will get worse unless there is a courageous stand taken to put a stop to a potentially lethal situation.
Today the main players are the two most innocent parties in the whole project – the Gardaí and the local people who feel that every drop of sweat shed in a search for justice is being drained out of them. Being hung out to dry has become a living experience for many people in north Mayo. Most of the Gardaí are there because they were ordered to be there as part of their job. Apart from the strong arm tactics of a few, the vast majority deal with a difficult situation as best they can. The words of Garda Inspector Michael Murray spring to mind when he addressed the crowd outside the Bellanaboy gates in July of last year after the men known as the Rossport Five were imprisoned. He reminded people that Gardaí are there to uphold the law and that Gardaí come from communities like those in north Mayo. Both Gardaí and those affected need to be reminded of this.
The irony is that today the stand-off that ensues pits the Gardaí and the local people against each other while those who are responsible for the mess stand in the wings and look on. The mess is going to get messier and the longer those in the sideline positions stand there, in glee or otherwise, the more responsibility they will have to shoulder, particularly if the situation worsens. There is no pride in being able to dictate the frontline from the sideline. Already we have heard too many cat call slogans of justification, inflaming an already volatile situation.
It is time for all partners in this project to exercise caution before this situation denigrates into total chaos. People who have responsibilities in this project need to stand up, not to tell us how right they are, but to use their powers to stop the escalation of what is happening in north Mayo. In the first instance, Mayo County Council needs to take a lead. To lie behind the veil of being a planning authority only in this project is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of its duties to its citizens. The Council was the first authority to approve the project without getting to grips with the reality of what they were dealing with, hoping, as one councillor put it, that An Bord Pleanála would do all the dirty work and make the difficult decisions on appeal. It is time to make amends. The best chance is now, with Erris Councillor Gerry Coyle as Cathaoirleach, along with the County Manager, Des Mahon.
Successive ministers, from Frank Fahey to Noel Dempsey, have a role. Frank Fahey changed the law of the land to extend CPO powers to Shell. These powers were reserved for state and state-sponsored companies. The State must take responsibility for creating such a situation. It resulted in five men spending 94 days in prison.
Shell, as the project promoter, has a central role to play, outside of PR claims and counter-claims. Note the number of spokesmen and women the company has engaged over the years. There is no point in claiming a supportive community in a rural, isolated, sparsely populated area when between 100 and 150 local people can turn up day after day to protest. These people are not troublemakers, pseudo-environmentalists, protest junkies or hippies. These are people who have lived in the area for generations. Without their support this project will not have the consent of the people. Consent cannot be bought, it can only be earned. The net result is that this project continues to divide people, rather than bring them together.
Those who find themselves on the frontline are asked to make the biggest sacrifice. They turn up daily to protest and must retain the dignity and strength of character that becomes harder and harder as each day passes. It is difficult to maintain a sense of perspective in all this for those on the frontline. They have concerns with this project for six years. Regardless of all the reports, people still have concerns. They find themselves centre page and centre screen. They must dig deep to reach the reserves of self respect that will give them the strength to stand tall in difficult times. It is too easy to lower oneself and it has happened on occasion, with taunts, intimidation and unseemly behaviour. There would be less of that behaviour if the people on the sidelines poured as much energy into solving what appears to be an insurmountable problem. Every difficulty creates its own dynamic and the current situation is high risk. Serious leadership is required from those in authority, be it church or state, or both.
Criticism of the people who pray the Rosary in Irish is at best misguided. Rossport people have been reciting the Rosary since day one. It is more prayer that is needed. Last Sunday’s first reading states: “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.”
This project needs people of wisdom.