Human rights activist and Shell to Sea campaigner Pat ‘the Chief’ O’Donnell was finally released from prison on Saturday [July 17]. He had served more than five months of a seven month sentence imposed on him for his involvement in protests against the giveaway of our natural resources and Shell’s plans to build an experimental and highly dangerous pipeline through his community in north Mayo.
Around 150 people gathered outside Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon on Saturday to take part in a demonstration celebrating his release. Amongst those gathered to greet Pat on his release was his wife and children as well as many friends and neighbours from the peninsula of Iorras [Erris]. Also present were Shell to Sea campaigners and other supporters from around the country as well as activists from éirígí.
Addressing campaigners and supporters at the gate of Castlerea Prison, Pat thanked those who stood by him and his family, including all those who wrote to him, during his term of imprisonment. He described his time in prison as a “learning experience” and said he remained unbroken and defiant and committed to continuing the fight against Shell and their planned pipeline.
Referring to fellow prisoners whom he met within the jail, Pat said that “the real criminals are walking the streets”. To loud cheers and prolonged applause Pat continued: “By that, I mean the bankers, the developers and the politicians.”
Fellow Shell to Sea campaigner Maura Harrington then read out a message of support from independent councillor Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who is currently the Mayor of Roscommon County Council. According to Cllr Flanagan’s statement, Pat’s bravery in standing up to tyranny was to be “commended”. He said that “it was not people who hid under the beds that won freedom for Ireland. It was people like yourself”.
Cllr Flanagan’s statement continued: “It was not crooks like Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke that this state was created for. It was for people like you. Your dedication to what is right is what gives hope that things can change. Without people like Pat O’Donnell this country would be a lesser place. Keep up the fight. Why keep quiet simply because you are bloody well right.”
Maura then went to raise the plight of fellow campaigner Niall Harnett who remains in Castlerea prison and who was in his 88th day of a six month prison sentence for his opposition to Shell’s activities in north Mayo. The day before Niall was sent to jail on April 20 the Deepwater Horizon Rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven people, injuring seventeen and causing the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States.
Maura highlighted the fact that every day that Niall was inside Castlerea, “there has been oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico”. She finished up by saying that “we are damned if what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico is ever going to be allowed to happen in Broadhaven Bay and in Erris in north Mayo.”
Cathaoirleach éirígí Brian Leeson praised the determination and defiance of Pat O’Donnell and said his activism was an inspiration.
Leeson said: “The jailing of both Pat and Niall was a blatant injustice and further evidence, if any was needed, of the corrupt nature of this state and its so-called justice system. The manner in which Pat has carried out his opposition on land, at sea and during his time in prison, to Shell’s planned pipeline and the giveaway of our natural resources is an inspiration to those of us who seek a society that puts the welfare and safety of its citizens before the profits of private business.”
Leeson added: “Pat’s crime was not what he was convicted of. It was his refusal to be bought off by Shell or intimidated by the Gardaí acting at Shell’s behest. For standing up for his community, and indeed for the wider population of this island, with the corporate media acting as cheerleaders, this state has attempted to demonise and criminalise Pat and his fellow campaigners.
“Pat has been repeatedly intimidated and arrested. He has been assaulted. He has had his fishing boat seized illegally by the Gardaí and had it sank by armed and masked thugs. As Pat himself made reference to, it is the wrong people that have been jailed. The real criminals are those bankers, developers and politicians that have bled this country dry and created the economic wasteland that this state is currently in.
“It is these individuals who have made their fortunes on the backs of working class people, and those who have signed away the rights to the hundreds of billions of euros worth of natural resources, that should be behind bars. It is those who are placing the lives of an entire community at risk by constructing an extremely dangerous experimental pipeline carrying raw gas close to their homes that should be in Mountjoy and Castlerea prisons, not Pat or Niall.”
Leeson concluded: “Once again I want to reiterate éirígí’s support for the people of Erris and the Shell to Sea campaign. We will continue to campaign to defeat Shell and their planned pipeline and to take our natural resources back under public control, where the vast wealth generated can be used to fund schools and hospitals, not to line the pockets of Shell's shareholders.”