Shell in Mayo - Trust lost in a quagmire of protest

THE arrival of Shell in north Mayo should have been an occasion for celebration but, from an Irish perspective, nearly everything about the project has been disappointing.

The tone was set by a giveaway deal between Ray Burke, Bertie Ahern and Shell that means Ireland Inc has surrendered this great natural resource for little or no reward.

There have been some transient jobs but there has not been, nor will there be, any great contribution to the nation’s coffers even though Shell has been given access to this Irish resource.

The great majority of the benefits will be recorded in the profit and loss accounts of Shell, which was listed as the world’s largest corporation in 2009 by Fortune magazine. The company operates in over 140 countries.

Shell cannot be held accountable for the deal struck by our politicians but that does not mean we cannot feel we’ve been shortchanged. That feeling is exacerbated as it seems almost unimaginable it might be challenged much less overturned

The polarisation of north Mayo’s communities is another destabilising consequence. There has been consistent low-level violence and though over 110 complaints were made to the Garda Ombudsman Commission, only one was upheld.

This statistic is rendered useless because the Minister for Justice vetoed a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) investigation. This intervention seems inappropriate and can only encourage those who feel a sense of injustice around the whole saga. It must be acknowledged though that the gardaí were under tremendous and consistent pressure throughout the saga.

The behaviour of the gardaí is not the only thing under scrutiny — just last month a Shell to Sea campaigner was jailed for five months for assaulting three gardaí at a special sitting of Belmullet District Court in Mayo.

Last February Judge Raymond Groarke, at a sitting of the Circuit Criminal Court in Castlebar, said that key figures in the dispute were involved in vigilante activity and have been acting like “secret police”. Twenty local people have served jail terms over the protests.

Inevitably, this has encouraged various organisations to consider the affair and yesterday one of them, Front Line, published a report on how the various protests were policed. The report does not pretend to be comprehensive but it does raise serious questions.

It is obvious that, as the report puts it, there has been a breakdown in trust between the gardaí and sections of the community they are supposed to police and protect. This is at the very least regrettable.

The report calls for an inquiry and though it may seem daft to even consider another one as the Dublin Castle marathons are imploding, the decision to block the GSOC makes it difficult to argue against one.

Though it might be easy to blame Shell for all the difficulties in Mayo, there is much more to it than that. We must remember that we elected the politicians who gave away the gas and we must remember too that some of the protestors were far less transparent than we might expect them to be.

Once again we have a good argument for an independent investigative authority that can demand answers from anyone doing public or private business in this country. It could be a catalyst for real cultural change and social progress.

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