Last Friday [11 November], over 100 people gathered at the gates of the Ballinaboy gas refinery in Erris, County Mayo in solidarity with the local community and in memory of Nigerian activist Ken Saro Wiwa and his eight comrades, executed in November 1995 by the Nigerian dictatorship for resisting Shell’s destructive operations in the Niger Delta.
In the early hours of 10 November 2006 Gardaí baton charged campaigners at Ballinaboy bridge who had gathered to protest against the building of the gas refinery. It was a violent illustration of the nature of the state and its defence of corporate interests. Young and old were beaten, flung into ditches and trampled underfoot. It was a harrowing experience, particularly for those who until then had believed the state would act in the interests of the people.
Having handed over the people’s resources to multinational oil corporations; sold 400 acres of state forestry for the building of an onshore refinery to process high pressure raw and odourless gas; legislated for corporations to compulsory acquire private land; ensured planning permissions were granted for a highly dangerous and environmentally destructive project and jailed those who dared to protest at this affront to democracy, the state resorted to deploying its police force in an attempt to violently quell continued and determined resistance.
At the time, Bertie Ahern, the mafia like Don who led a government in the pocket of corporations, not surprisingly, defended the gardaí’s violent actions and cheered on Shell, “the negotiations are over, the rule of law has to be implemented and the work goes on. And if there are those who try to frustrate that, they’re breaking the law and it’s a matter for the gardaí to enforce it.” His comments displayed the arrogance of a government that oversaw rampant corruption in the banking sector and took bungs from property speculators. ‘Laws’ it seemed were for the ‘little people’ while corporate corruption was supported and facilitated.
The cracking of heads on the bridge at Ballinaboy was simply an extension of that belief. If considered necessary, the interests of Shell would be enforced at the butt end of garda batons. Yet five years on from that violent attack, the community and the Shell to Sea campaign continues to resist the corporate takeover of our gas reserves and the environmental destruction of Erris.
The Day of Solidarity commenced at 7am with several dozen activists, many of whom had travelled from Dublin to stand in solidarity with the local community, standing on the road at Aughoose to block workers accessing the site. Having remained in place for several hours and forced numerous work vehicles to turn back, activists made their way to the gates of the Bellinaboy refinery. Here they were joined by dozens of local people. Carrying crosses bearing the names of the Ogoni Nine: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Barinen Klobel, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Saturday Dobee, Felix Nuate, Nordu Eawo, Paul Levurah and Daniel Gbokoo; the crowd walked from the gates of the refinery to the Bellinaboy bridge where the garda baton charge of 2006 was recalled.
On return to the refinery gates, and in solidarity with the global Occupy movement, an Occupy ‘Shellenaboy’ camp was erected and banners hung from the fencing surrounding the refinery site. The crowd was addressed by local Shell to Sea activists Terence Conway and Maura Harrington with proceedings monitored by the garda Special Branch and IRMS, Shell’s private security goon squad.
In a powerful address Maura thanked all those who attended and emphasised the fact that the campaign has always been about local, national and international concerns, illustrated by the fact that many had travelled from different parts of the country to stand with the local community and the remembrance of the Ogoni Nine. Maura highlighted the importance of defending place, recalled that the community had been resisting this project for eleven years and castigated the corrupt ruling elite in the Twenty Six Counties for its continued support of corporate interests. Those who had passed away during the course of the campaign were recalled some of whom had died as a result of the toll the campaign had taken on them. In conclusion, Maura vowed that the resistance to state and corporate power would continue.
Since its inception, the Twenty Six Counties has been dominated by powerful private interests whose every need has been catered to by a pliant state. The recent issuing of 13 licencing options for exploration in the Atlantic Margin, where vast oil and gas reserves lie, demonstrates that the new government is simply an extension of the old. The great oil and gas giveaway continues and will do so until sufficient numbers actively resist the corporate takeover of our natural resources.
The Erris community and Rossport Solidarity Camp have been to the forefront in resisting Shell and the corrupt corporate state of the Twenty Six Counties. But they cannot do it alone. The demand that our oil and gas reserves are utilised in the interests of the people must be central to the campaign of opposition to austerity and the EU/IMF takeover. The people of Erris need your support to continue their 11 year campaign of resistance. Their struggle is our struggle. For more information on the campaign and how to get involved check www.shelltosea.com andwww.rossportsolidaritycamp.org