after the remains of the irish government gave approval last week for the shell high-pressure gas pipeline and refinery in county mayo, activists have been staging blockades, actions and protests against shell in solidarity with the residents and activists of rossport. in london, tonight's garage blockade was also called as a memorial to long-time climate activist val jones, who lost a long struggle against a debilitating disease just one year ago.
last week, the irish government gave final approval for the shell high pressure raw gas pipeline which is being built in a beautiful area of county mayo in north-west ireland. shell is intending to use the pipeline to pump ashore unrefined gas to an onshore refinery.
the "corrib" gas field was initially discovered in 1996, and after exploratory drilling, the project began in earnest in 2003 when shell purchased an area of forest land from the irish forestry agency, and they began building the refinery in 2005.
1200 local residents are directly affected by the site and the pipeline and the overwhelming majority are against the project in its current form and do not believe that alternatives have been properly considered.
over the years, there has been a strong resistance movement against the current project, and after an injunction was instituted in 2005 to prevent residents from obstructing the construction of the pipeline, 5 men from rossport were imprisoned for ignoring the injuction and trying to protect their own land.
shell continued to build the pipeline and also to flout health and safety guidelines and building consents. while local drinking water regularly showed aluminium levels that were way outside safety limits, shell actually had to dismantle 3km of pipeline after ministry officials discovered serious breaches.
the 'rossport 5' were relased after a three month long campaign of civil disobedience, direct actions, and worldwide protests and solidarity actions, but the gardai (irish police force) grew more violent in their treatment of protestors.
in november 2006, many locals were injured in police baton charges to break a blockade. the gardai boasted of their 'no arrest' tactics, and continued their campaign of intimidation, injuring locals in baton charges, and attacking protestors who were trying to stop the illegal construction of shell portacabins on their own land.
as the pipeline was laid in broadhaven bay, protestors regularly took to the water, and many were arrested in various actions at sea.
the operation was held up for a year after pipe-laying equipment became damaged, and the resistance has continued strongly since then, despite many arrests. the project is now due to open in 2012 or 2013, several years behind schedule. as well as legal oppression, there was a parallel campaign of unlawful intimidation, with the gardai taking knives to protestors' inflatable boats, and masked men attacking campaigners and even hospitalising one local activist in the middle of the night.
the campaign focusses on the fact that the pipeline is an experimental project, untried elswhere in the world, with raw unprocessed gas carried at extremely high pressure, first under the sea-bed, and then in a pipeline across a peat bog known for its instability. the gas will include a corrosive mixture of chemicals, but will not contain the tell-tale gas odour which is added at the refinery. the pipeline cuts across an area of amazing scenic beauty and which is a world-recognised area of specific scientific interest. waste water from the refinery will flow into carrowmore lake, a source of water supplying 10,000 people. water samples have already shown massively increased and illegal levels of aluminium.
after last week's announcement by the government, which incidentally now comprises only three cabinet ministers, as the rest have resigned over the economic turmoil, local resistance groups have called for a week of solidarity protests against shell, and in london this evening, the old street shell garage was closed down by activists from 'london rising tide' and samba-activists 'rhythms of resistance'.
tonight's blockade was also a memorial to shell activist and long-time 'rhythms of resistance' member, val jones, who lost a long and hard-fought struggle against motor neurone disease just one year ago. among her many talents, val was an accomplished banner-maker, and her huge "danger - keep out - shell hell in operation" banner has featured prominently in many actions, including tonight's.
the old street garage is a very busy one, normally with several vehicles filling up or queueing throughout a typical weekday evening. the activists took over its forecourt at about 7.30 this evening, unfurling val's huge banner, as well as a "shell devastates communities" banner brought over by rossport activists, and a simple "closed" banner across the main entrance. meanwhile the samba band attracted attention and lifted spirits, while hundreds of leaflets were handed out to passers-by.
the leaflets highlighted other issues as well as rossport: the devastating tar sands developments in alberta, canada; the continuing environmental destruction of the niger delta, along with corruption, human rights abuses, and of course the murder of activist ken saro-wiwa; and finally the connection to runaway climate change.
garage staff called police, who turned up with four cars and a van after about 25 minutes. after taking stock of the protest, they invoked 'obstruction of the highway' and threatened arrest if activists continued to block the access to the garage.
ironically, just as activists moved away from the entrance, a delivery tanker turned up and staff put out bollards while the delivery was made, rather taking the wind out of the police operation. indeed, activists helped get the message of the bollards across by once again holding the 'closed' banner across the entrance, this time apparently not causing an obstruction. police used a modern polaroid type camera to photograph the protestors before withdrawing, leaving just one car to keep an eye on things.
by chance, comedy activist mark thomas then walked past, on his way from a fund-raising gig. he was delighted to have stumbled on the protest and wished them well. he was particularly amused by the timely arrival of the tanker and disappeared off into the night with a happy smirk on his face.
as the garage reopened, the two police who had been left on guard once again insisted that the entrance be cleared, and after some slow-motion compliance, the protestors reached a decision to finish the action and leave together.
if you want to know more about rossport, see www.shelltosea.com
for tar sands info, see www.no-tar-sands.org
for info on the niger delta, see remembersarowiwa.com
london rising tide can be found at londonrisingtide.org.uk
and rhythms of resistance have a website at www.rhythmsofresistance.co.uk