Supporters of the five men jailed over opposition to a gas pipeline being built across their Co Mayo lands today handed in a letter calling for the resignation of a minister.
The letter was delivered to the Galway office of Minister of State Frank Fahey demanding he leave his post at the Department of Justice, as hundreds held protests calling for the release of the men.
The campaigners have claimed Mr Fahey, as former Marine Minister, approved of the pipeline and the compulsory acquisition of lands by the oil companies along the route.
Dr Jerry Cowley, an Independent TD, said: “I think the time has come for Minister Fahey just to bow out now because those people are in jail because of all that has happened by successive ministers.
“I just don’t think it is acceptable that those people can languish in jail while this goes on, while Shell bulldozes its way over the small people,” the TD told RTE Radio.
All five of the protesting men – farmers Willie Corduff, Philip McGrath and Brendan Philbin, and retired schoolteachers Vincent McGrath and Michael O’Suighin – were sent to prison after refusing to guarantee to the Dublin High Court that they would not obstruct the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline in Co Mayo.
Around 200 people gathered in protest today at the proposed terminal site at Bellanaboy in north Mayo, while others went to Mr Fahey’s office.
The 9km (5.5 mile) contested pipeline is part of the €990m Corrib gas project in Mayo. Shell E&P Ireland are looking to pump gas from the Corrib gasfield along the pipe to a onshore refinery at Bellanaboy in Mayo.
A statement from Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) today said: “It is important to point out that gas pipelines remain the most common and safest way to transport gas in Ireland and countries all over the world in a wide range of conditions, environments, terrains and at many different pressures.”
Shell E&P Ireland said the Corrib gas pipeline had been designed and would be built to world class standards.
“This pipeline, which runs on the seabed for most of its length, has been designed for a pressure of 345 bar, however, it will never run at this level,” the company said.
Shell E&P Ireland said the onshore pipeline would normally operate at a pressure of 120 bar and the design pressure of 345 bar meant there was a two-fold safety factor in place.
“It is deeply regrettable that the unfounded fears of some landowners have been recklessly stoked by some who must bear some of the responsibility for the current situation,” it added.
However, Ireland’s largest trade union SIPTU’s offshore exploration spokesman Padraig Campbell said that within the trench to bring the gas ashore there would be five high-powered electric cables, hydraulic lines carrying massive pressure and a waste pipe.
“You have a whole combination of different lines thrown into this trench, it is a pure guinea pig experiment.
“They thought they could do it without anybody saying boo, the people in the area have educated themselves to the danger and they are not going to tolerate it,” Mr Campbell said.
“They will put up with proper Bord Gais standards, they are willing to do that and are very amenable.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Fahey said he would be making no comment on the issue.