SHELL’S giant tunnel boring machine remained overnight last night (Tuesday) on the back of a lorry that jack-knifed at an isolated Co Mayo crossroads early on Tuesday morning. That was despite efforts by large tow-trucks to move it.
The lorry is part of a large convoy, flanked by garda vans and outriders, as well as other security personnel, that left Dublin Porton Sunday night, transporting sections of the boring machine. Local residents from the nearby villages of Rossport and Carrowteigue have been unable to travel to work or make hospital appointments due to the incident, which blocks a junction on the L1203 and R312 roads. The road is also a tourist route along the Atlantic edge leading to the Céide Fields interpretive centre.
A Shell spokesman said it is working with gardaí and Mayo County Council to resolve the matter. He said: “Shell E&P Ireland apologises for the inconvenience caused to all members of the public affected by the road blockage.” Spokesman for community group, Pobail Chill Chomáin, John Monaghan said the debacle was “yet another example of the lax approach to planning law by the developers and the authorities.
“Apart from the local disruption, including lack of access for emergency vehicles, many local residents are concerned that such loads were allowed to use roads not fit for such use and that that the convoy – with an extensive Garda escort – ended up off the designate haulage route, the adherence to which is a legal requirement and part of the planning permission for this latest part of the Corrib scheme,”Mr Monaghan said.
Mr Monaghan questioned why this breach of planning was assisted by An Garda Síochána, and he asked what action would Mayo County Council would take against Shell.
County Manager, Peter Hynes said the local authority had issued special permits some weeks ago for the heavy loads carried on the Shell lorries.
Mr Hynes said the authority “would not be taking any action against the developer as the special permit allowed for the ‘abnormal load’ to traverse a route from Dublin to Mayo, that had no relation to the local haulage route for regular Shell works”. He confirmed that emergency road-widening works were taking place to facilitate traffic.
Mr Hynes also confirmed that the weight of the lorry and its load was about 170 tonnes.
Ironically, Shell christened the giant tunnel boring machine, Fionnuala, after one of the four Children of Lír, who according to mythology were transformed into swans and banished to the nearby island of Inishglora, off Erris.
The 500-tonne machine is 149 metres long and is painted in the Mayo colours of green and red.
Several protests had already impeded the progress of the convoy, with veteran anti-Shell campaigner Maura Harrington blocking it with her car at the Bellacorrick crossroads around 4.30am on Tuesday morning.
Scuffles also broke out as the convoy made its way through Ballina earlier where there was a tense stand-off between gardaí and protesters.
Con Coughlan of Rossport Solidarity Camp said 30 protesters were corralled at the side of a disused pub at Bellacorrick for a time by a force of over 100 gardaí. He also said that a Shell barrel, filled with cement, was used for a subsequent ‘lock-on’ on the final leg of the journey between Bangor-Erris and the refinery site at Bellanaboy. “It was important we show there is still opposition against this given the amount of resources the State is willing to put behind it. There are loads of guards here and we were still able to delay it. We are putting those resources behind the richest company in the world when we have no money for the elderly people on hospital trolleys,”Con Coughlan said.
A Garda spokesman confirmed there were four males arrested for public-order offences during the protests. He also said efforts had been made to facilitate local access on the road by yesterday afternoon.
The convoy included four lorries transporting specialist tunnelling equipment bound for the Sruwaddacon estuary where one of the longest raw gas sub-sea tunnels in western Europe will be built to link the pipeline to the inland refinery at Bellanaboy.