Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Rossport struggle: a community resisting corporatate exploitation

The small town of Rossport, County Mayo in the northwest of Ireland is the front line for a decade long struggle between a local community wanting responsible development and a predatory multinational resource company looking to exploit natural resources for profit. The fallout from the Rossport struggle has been to criminalize a community for its dissent and opposition to corporate and state power.

In February, Pat O'Donnell a local fisherman in Rossport was jailed for 7 months on charges of "breach of the peace" and obstruction of Police, charges resulting from his role in a long running local campaign to prevent Shell from constructing a refinery and a high pressure gas pipeline through the town. O'Donnell continues a long line of farmers, residents, and fishermen imprisoned for opposing Shell and the Irish Government plans in Rossport.

The Rossport struggle is yet another example of a large multinational resource company getting governments to give them the right to resources and allowing them to ride roughshod over the community and then using the institutions of the state to suppress local opposition.

In 1996 large reserves of gas were discovered in the Coorib fields 80km off the coast. Instead of processing gas at sea, Shell proposed a cheaper, more experimental method to bring the gas ashore by a high pressure pipeline to carry raw gas through the community of Rossport to an inland refinery. This would save Shell hundreds of millions of dollars but placed local houses within 200 metres of the pipeline. In late 2009 the pipeline was found to unacceptable on safety grounds and presented a major risk to the local community in the case of leak, rupture or explosion.

For over 11 years the local community has opposed Shell's construction of the pipeline through the town and refinery nearby to process gas from the offshore Corrib gas fields. In 2005 five locals (the Rossport 5) were jailed for 94 days for refusing to allow Shell access to their land. Shell had been awarded a Compulsory Acquisition Order to build the gas pipeline on their land.

Dozens of others have received fines, bans or custodial sentences. In 2009 there were over 300 Police, 200 private security staff, 2 Irish navy gunboats and an Irish Air Force plane present to control and suppress resistance and opposition to the pipeline's construction.

Pat O'Donnell and his family have suffered for their defiance. O'Donnell has opposed Shell since 2005 and refused payments of 300,000 Euros made by Shell to other fishermen. He has been arrested while fishing, detained in custody (while fishing gear was torn from his sea moorings) and assaulted, sustaining facial injuries and broken teeth. In June 2009 his fishing boat was boarded in mysterious circumstances by 4 masked men, 2 of whom held him and his crew at gunpoint while the others scuttled the boat. The boat eventually sank and O' Donnell and his crew had to be rescued from their lifeboat.

Since the jailing of O'Donnell in February national and international pressure has intensified with protest rallies taking place across the UK. You can read more here at the website of the Shell to Sea campaign.

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