80 Charges between 19 people
On Monday February 20th the Belmullet courthouse in Co. Mayo will be full of campaigners opposing the Corrib Gas Project. Nineteen people are facing 80 charges between them for civil disobedience, and this week has been set aside as a special sitting for the campaigners.
This week will be extremely significant in determining how the state deals with peaceful protest. Anyone who is concerned with the current ‘state of affairs’ in terms of the bank and developer bailout and resulting austerity, fracking, household tax, and other issues which have and will result in civil disobedience should watch the proceedings with interest.
From the sheer amount of charges it is clear that the Gardaí are trying to quash the protests which have been peaceful for the last ten years by coming down heavily on people.
Some background: The cases being dealt with this week are campaigners who have been arrested mostly for blocking the roads, stopping Shell’s haulage and halting work. These protests happened between March 2011 and February 2012. Blockading was carried out by campaigners congregating in large groups at Shell’s site entrances, by walking along the roads or by locking themselves to concrete barrels.
IRMS, Shell’s private security company, has been documented blocking roads, assaulting and detaining people on the public roads (where they have no jurisdiction). A private security person has no more right to use force or detain members of the public in a public place than protesters have to assault or detain Shell workers. This selective application of the law shows where the state stands in supporting multinational corporations over its people.
Though most people who are up in court this week are facing double charges of Section 8 & 9 of the Public Order Act, a small number of people have been heavily targeted and are facing up to 14 charges. Gardaí have chosen certain individuals to target and make an example of in order to intimidate people from taking action against the Corrib Gas Project. These individuals have done nothing out of the ordinary, and are being persecuted for the same peaceful protesting that hundreds have taken part in over the past year.
As local resident and Shell to Sea spokesperson Terence Conway (who is facing charges this week for blocking the road) explained earlier in the week, supporters of the local community are being targeted in an effort to further isolate the people of Erris. The community here has been abandoned time and time again by politicians, An Bord Pleanála and The State, and now those who have been living and working in solidarity with the community are being criminalised and intimidated.
In the last special sitting to deal with campaigners against Corrib, 24 of 27 defendants were acquitted. Stay tuned at www.shelltosea.com to see how the week unfolds. Check twitter on the Shell to Sea website or stay tuned for court reports.