A small Irish coastal community was gripped in a massive security operation tonight to allow final offshore work to begin on energy giant Shell’s bitterly disputed gas refinery.
Two Irish Navy vessels, as many as 300 Garda officers and private security guards were drafted into Glengad, in north Mayo, as tensions rose between protesters and authorities.
The arrival of the world’s largest pipelaying ship, the Solitaire, outside Broadhaven Bay sparked fears of a repeat of sea and land clashes that marred a similar attempt to complete the contentious works last year.
John Monaghan of the Pobal Chill Chomain community organisation, which is opposed to the pipeline being brought ashore, said residents were bracing themselves for a stand-off.
“It may lead to extremely dangerous protests and God knows what is going to happen. We fear for the worst,” he said.
Former United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday waded into the protracted dispute during the day after a local fisherman, who is opposed to the refinery, was arrested.
“I think the Irish people are not getting the whole story. These people who object are not troublemakers, they are not terrorists, they are not dangerous people,” the UN veteran said of the demonstrators.
“They are normal Irish people living in a quiet community who are being threatened – their way of life is being threatened.”
The Gardaí confirmed one fisherman was arrested shortly after 11am under the Public Order Act on suspicion of entering an exclusion zone thrown up by Shell around the works.
Campaigners, who dispute the exclusion zone has any legal basis, claim another fisherman, Pat O’Donnell – whose boat was sunk just weeks ago in mysterious circumstances – was injured and hospitalised after an altercation.
A man in his 20s and an 18-year-old woman were also arrested last night under the Public Order Act after swimming into the bay to protest.
Mr Monaghan questioned the scale of the security operation and the involvement of the State in a row between Shell and local campaigners.
“It seems now like our parish is in lockdown,” he said.
“I’m sure that’s going to lead to trouble later if they’re going to restrict people’s freedom of movement.”
Mr Halliday said there were human rights and environmental issues raised by the residents who are concerned about the proximity of the high-pressure pipeline to villages and farmland.
The ex-UN official, who insisted it was not the international norm to run gas pipelines so close to homes, said it was not too late for the Government to renegotiate the project.
“Given the crisis we face now in Ireland, the issue of revenue is something we need to talk about,” he told RTÉ.
“We are talking about potential revenue perhaps in the region of €50bn. The Irish government should have ownership of a part of this project.”