Media spin and access to political lobbying by powerful interest groups is having an enormous impact.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than at Rossport where the community is struggling against a powerful multinational and in the plight of driftnet fishermen who are having their right to a livelihood forcibly taken away from them.
The Taoiseach has said “the rule of law must prevail”. Whose law?
On the one hand, Shell has been given a licence to extract a finite natural resource from the sea. On the other, coastal fishermen with a traditional licence likewise to extract a resource from the sea are having that right withdrawn.
It doesn’t matter that Shell got its licence for virtually nothing while fishermen pay a sizeable proportion of their income every year to the exchequer for the right to earn a living. Shell has been backed by the Government. A battery of experts and reports have been commissioned to ride roughshod over the community’s rights.
The risk of a catastrophic accident is not going to impede Shell’s drive for maximum profit. We are told they have the law on their side.
But the question no expert or commission can answer, but we as society must face is this: have the people of Rossport the right to have their views taken into account and some accommodation made for them?
Similarly, after several reports and commissions, the Government has decided to end drift-net fishing. We who have a legal right to fish and to harvest this natural wealth have been told the Government will close down this public fishery and effectively privatise it.
Vested interests were allowed to call the shots. Our communities were easy targets with no effective voice in the corridors of power. We were easy pickings for a highly organised media and lobbying campaign. Upwards of 150,000 salmon are currently leaving the feeding grounds off Greenland and slowly making their way to the Irish coast. This year they will not be harvested at sea, but will flow into our rivers — 70% of which are privately owned.
This wealth traditionally harvested by coastal communities will become the property of private fishery owners who, like Shell, will extract maximum profit over time.
I know the State may take away my right to make a living if it interferes with the common good, but I believe it has no right to forcefully transfer the wealth traditionally harvested by coastal communities to others.
The contrast between the treatment of coastal fishermen and Shell makes a mockery of the rule of law and of our democracy.
The silence of the major opposition parties is deafening.
Seamus de Búrca