Fifteen masked men armed with iron bars and chains broke into energy giant Shell’s gas terminal in north Mayo, it was revealed today.
Gardaí said the gang entered the compound at around 11.30pm last night threatening security staff before a digger was stolen and used to damage buildings and works on the site.
The break-in is linked to long-running protests against Shell’s Corrib gas project and the refinery in Glengad near Belmullet.
One campaigner, Willie Corduff, who had maintained a sit-down protest at the gates of the terminal since early yesterday, was removed at 4am today.
It is understood scuffles broke out as he was taken from in front of the wheels of a truck and he suffered severe cuts and bruises.
Terence Conway, of Shell of Sea, claimed a group of six to eight men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas attacked Mr Corduff.
“He said he was beaten around the head with a baton or flash light until he stopped moving,” said Mr Conway.
In 2005 Mr Corduff was jailed alongside four other local men, known as the Rossport Five, for 94 days over protests.
He was being treated in Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar today.
Mr Conway said he and other campaigners had been with Mr Corduff throughout the night for his safety, but that he had left briefly to return to a car when the incident happened.
He maintained at least two other protesters witnessed the alleged assault, with one of them also injured.
Meanwhile, gardaí said up to 15 men wearing balaclavas and armed with iron bars and chains had threatened security staff.
One security guard suffered an injured to his arm during the disturbances.
Mr Conway said he was not aware of any protesters entering the compound during the night.
Shell to Sea said Mr Corduff, winner of the 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize, and two other local men had climbed under the truck at midday on Wednesday in an attempt to halt work at the site at Glengad.
The protesters insist Shell has not secured planning permission for a section of pipeline as it comes ashore to the refinery.
Shell to Sea said the other two men were removed but Mr Corduff vowed to stay under the truck until he had evidence that Shell had authorisation for their work.
Supporters claimed the 55-year-old grandfather had been dragged from under the truck and beaten about the head and knees.
Mr Corduff said: “I thought they were trying to kill me.
“They beat me until I stopped moving. I heard one of them say, ’Stop now lads, he’s nearly finished’.”