Corduff’s daughter soon followed and then a third person. The Guards moved in seconds, pushing people, gripping coats and grabbing at young women, all for the crime of trying to talk some sense and reason into the police. This, it seems, the Guards, and their superiors, fear the most.
The first to be shoved back was another Rossport Five victim, Phillip McGrath. Two Guards forced him back to the protest side of the road and officer GW 213 raised a hand to strike him, but my camera was on him in seconds.
As the shoving started the only two cameras down there were immediately targeted, one being this journalist. I was surrounded by three Guards and pushed back, despite already being on the side of the road. My response was quick and effective. I declared touching me was assault and they quickly let go. But officer RG 33, after keeping a close watch on me for the minutes before, did not follow suit. He told me to “do something about it”.
Since the extreme violence that led up to and after the November 10 baton charge, these last few weeks has seen the Guards back off, but only because the local Shell to Sea community are afraid to attempt anything more than morning pickets outside the construction site and highly organised protest marches.
They fear the repercussions, what the Guards will do to them. And who can blame them once they view local independent filmmaker’s footage from that vicious morning, when Sergeant Conor O’Reilly steamed into men, women, children and pensioners with a steel telescopic baton, hitting low and hard to avoid being captured by the cameras.
Not that the mainstream cameras would have picked it up anyway, as RTE News were some ten metres behind the police line using the camera zoom to capture the event, only getting close to accuse locals thrown from the peaceful roadblock of participating in “violent protest”.
And this journalist knows what damage those steel batons can do, after suffering a pretty severe leg injury whilst filming the London Mexican Embassy protest on 30 October 2006.
So why did the violence erupt? Why did over 200 Guards appear on the scenic roads of Bellanaboy on October 3, 2006, many drafted in from outside areas? The police in this remote area now represent over 10 percent of the population.
One answer lies in the 6 November Garda Review. District officer for Belmullet, Superintendent Joe Gannon stated arresting the protestors “was not part of our strategy”.
Gannon added this was to halt “a route of martyrdom”. It also halted any negative press for Shell if huge amounts of arrests incurred and journalists came sniffing.
But the interesting thing here is how the Guards behave. One day they are shoving, beating and batoning, the next they are saying "good morning" and having polite conversation. A psychologist could well deem this type of behaviour as schizophrenia.
The intimidation of the local community and any new faces that appear in the area continues on a daily basis. Paddy wagons travel the small roads around Broadhaven Bay everyday, slowing down outside people’s homes and especially outside the gate and field that leads down to the Rossport Solidarity Camp. Guards were also spotted on the hill overlooking the camp, some thirty officers in uniform, some with video cameras.
One man who has regular drive-bys from the police at his home is John Monahan. It has become so regular he told me he now fears for the safety of his wife and six-month-old daughter. They drive with the car doors locked - the same at their home, something unheard of in Rossport.
But Monahan is known by the Guards as one of the locals who dared to confront Shell officials and local council members on the disregard for health and safety legislation during the construction of the gas terminal.
On the morning pickets intimidation is regular. When people are on their own groups of three or four police will surround them and circle like vultures checking out fresh carrion.
Myself, after four days in the area the van I was travelling in was pulled up, my details taken, and I watched the police search one protestor’s bag for no reason other than the way he looked and because he dared to talk back to the Guards.
The next morning a senior officer checked my press credentials again and the police cameraman, a local officer called Burke, filmed the entire incident, as I did. Then later that same morning another senior officer ordered me to remove two banners taped to a post. I refused. He called me a protestor because I was living on the solidarity camp. I told him to prove it in a court of law. Finally he gave up and went away when he realised I was not going to submit to the intimidation.
This is not a new tactic when state forces are employed to protect Shell and become “Shell Cops” to crush local opposition of the multinational. In America local campaign groups, concerned over increasing health problems of citizens living close to Shell refineries and chemical plants, also witnessed escalating intimidation from local law enforcement, from slow drive-bys to full-on surveillance.
The lead up to the latest bout of aggression on 1 March saw all senior officers on the ground obviously discussing the annoying internationally-registered journalist who would not go away. Their discussion filtered down through the ranks and most of the officers, including three young and known instigators of violence, pointing out and openly discussing this journalist.
It seems I have become a particular thorn in the Irish Guards side, probably Shell’s too, and someone seems intent on pulling me out of the wound, with pliers if need be.