Next to speak was Sue, who described herself as a climate activist from the UK. Sue told us three reasons why this is an important campaign to support:
- Wilderness Defence: The area that Shell are planning to exploit is a EU Protected Area, which is recognised in EU law as a higher level of ecological importance than what we in the UK know as SSSI's. The bay is a breeding area for whales, dolphins, otters and many bird species. Even before the operation has begun production, there has been serious pollution caused by a diesel spill at one of the construction compounds. There is a serious problem with aluminium being washed out of the exposed subsoil into streams, lakes and rivers. Shell assured local people that there would be no environmental problems and put a sign on their compound with a 'hotline' phone number for any envirnomental emergencies: Kerry described how she had rung this when she found the diesel spill and it had been an answering machine!
- Supporting a Community: The people of Mayo have suffered greatly at the hands of Shell and have been sold out by corrupt politicians. There are painful splits in the community, with some people having sold their land / crab pots / moorings for what they thought was the best they could get, and others resisting and feeling undermined by those who sold. The Gardai / guards (police) have let down the community and even the Irish Navy have been mobilised against their own citizens. There is lots to be done to help the community survive these insults.
- Stopping Fossil Fuel Extraction: Originally, Shell To Sea's position was that the gas should be used for the economic benefit of the Irish rather than given away to Shell by corrupt politicians. Sue disagreed with this, and would prefer there to be no extraction of gas because of the environmental catastrophe that is being caused by burning fossil fuels. More and more people are becoming receptive to these ideas and have adopted the new slogan, "Shell To Hell."
Despite all of the repression, Eoin told us that there was lots of fun to be had at and around the solidarity camp. People have had a great time and made lasting friendships. Locals join in with parties, dancing etc. People who like boats had a great time forming a regatta of sea-kayaks and inflatables. There are loads of direct action roles that people can get involved in, but also lots of support needed so don't feel like you can only go if you're ready to swim and/or be arrested. But if you think you might get arrested, it would help to have ID proving your UK address so you get out of custody quickly.
What lessons can UK activists learn from all of this? Firstly, it is possible to have a dialog with people who hadn't previously understood the global environmental significance of what's happening on their doorstep. By supporting a local community, people come to respect you and listen to what you have to say. It is possible to work together with people who have very different objectives (regional economy Vs. leave it in the ground) if you agree that your short-term goals are the same (stop the pipeline). The more you're working alongside these people, the more they will learn about your views and you about theirs. It's been seen in Rossport that people's opinions can change in this way.
This spring is going to see a big resurgence in activity at the camp. The pipe-laying ship Solitaire is expected to return in March/April, after having myseriously 'developed a technical problem' last year. The refinery site is already lost, but preventing the pipeline reaching it will make it useless and this is now the focus of the campaign.
There are details about how to get to the camp on the website  - you can buy a 'Sail & Rail' ticket from UK railway stations which cost about £25 to get to Dublin. Hitching and going as a foot passenger is no cheaper. With the current exchange rate, you're best off buying a return ticket in the UK. The bus or train to Mayo then costs about £10-£15. Most people get as far as Ballina then hitch, but there are local busses that go to the camp. If you let the camp know you're coming someone might be able to pick you up on their shopping trip. Staying at the site could be done for about 5 euros per day, but nobody should be turned away for lack of funds.