For 10 years there has been a struggle against the Corrib gas project in Western Ireland. For the last five years many campaigners have made the journey to show their support with the local people as they show the international oil company that they cannot have their own way. This year a critical stage is being reached and Rossport Solidarity Camp is gearing up to play its role in the continuing resistance. Read on for a history of the campaign and for information if you are planning to come across.
Blocking the tractor
ROSSPORT- A DECADE OF STRUGGLE AGAINST SHELL
If you have thought of supporting the struggle in Co.Mayo Ireland; this is the year to do it. The struggle is seen by Shell as its biggest resistance in Europe, delaying the project by a decade & making it three times over budget. The Corrib Gas Project starts with a natural gas reserve lying 70km off the coast of County Mayo. It is jointly owned by Shell (45%), Statoil (36.5%) and Vermillion (18.5%). The Shell led consortium are planning on building the final part of the Corrib Gas infrastrucuture this year- the on-land pipeline- in a 9km tunnel underneath the Sruth Fhada Conn estuary & adjacent farmland. The refinery is already built as is the 70km offshore pipeline from the gas well head to landfall. The connecting 9km is the final piece of the jigsaw. Here is some background info on the campaign & the area; a look at some of the politics & history of the struggle & what you can expect if you visit this year.
Who is fighting Shell in Mayo?
Several groups are fighting the Corrib gas project. These are:
Shell to Sea
Shell to Sea was set up in 2005. It started as a local group & grew to be a national campaign with groups in most major cities in Ireland.
Its aims are:
 To have the Corrib gas field exploited in a safe way that will not expose the local community in Erris to unnecessary health, safety and environmental risks.
 To renegotiate the terms of the Great Oil and Gas Giveaway, which sees Ireland’s 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent* off the West Coast go directly to the oil companies, with the Irish State retaining a 0% share, no energy security of supply and only 25% tax on profits against which all costs can be deducted.
 To seek justice for the human rights abuses suffered by Shell to Sea campaigners due to their opposition to Shell’s proposed inland refinery.
The group has been involved with picketing the refinery, blockading trucks, presenting at oral hearings (planning enquiries), resisting at sea, mass actions, outreach.
Pobal Chill Chomáin
This group emerged from the larger Shell to Sea campaign in April 2008. It proposed that the refinery site be moved to Glinsk; an uninhabited area a few miles to the east of the intended pipeline route and refinery.
Pobal Le Cheile
A group set up by local businesses opposed to the project.
Rossport Solidarity Camp
This was set up in 2005 to support the community around the time that the Rossport 5 were sent to jail for preventing Shell from coming on local farmers land. It started off in Rossport & moved across the water to the dunes at Glengad. When it was evicted there it moved to a house in Barnacuoille (up the hill from Pollatomish) & every summer sets up camp at the most strategic location. For the last 3 yrs its been at Glengad. This year its at Aughouse towards the eastern end of the estuary. Its aims are:
 to support the community in its struggle against Shell's Corrib gas project.
 to provide a base for people to visit, learn and support the struggle through a number of ways including non-violent direct action.
 to work as part of the national Shell to Sea campaign.
 to link with other communities under threat from the fossil fuel industry and international campaigns against Shell & other oil companies.
 to try and become a model of sustainability.
This is the place for visitors to stay & get involved. The camp has supported the local community in pickets & blockades; presented at oral hearings & generally been a thorn in the state & Shells side for the last 6 years. It has a no illegal drugs or alcohol policy & a safe space policy.
There are some local people & people from outside the area that don't particularly align themselves to any of the above groups but are very much part of the struggle.
-2005- indefinite imprisonment of 5 men for refusing to allow Shell access to land for staking out the route of the proposed pipeline.
-June 2005- the community organises pickets on all Shell work sites inthe area. The pickets successfully shut down the refinery construction for 18 months.
-June 2005- Rossport Solidarity camp was formed with the aim of supporting the community struggle. Shell to sea groups formed all over Ireland.
-30th Sept- Rossport 5 released after 3 months in prison. 1st Oct- mass rally In Dublin.
-Summer 2006- with collapse of mediation during the summer, Shell announce their intention to recommence work.
-3rd Oct 2006- 2000 Garda drafted into the area to allow Shell to resume work. Sit down blockades of refinery gates violently removed by Garda.
-Winter 2006-Summer 2007- blockades of site gates and haulage routes; consistently met with Garda violence.
-Summer 2007- Willie Corduff, one of Rossport 5 awarded the Goldman prize for grassroots environmentalism.
-Summer 2008- pipe laying ship the Solitaire attempted to lay offshore section of the pipeline. Met with massive resistance from the community & its supporters. Local fishermen lay lobster pots in the path of the ship & the navy are called in to police the seas. People go out in kayaks to try to thwart the associated dredging works. Local teacher Maura Harrington goes on hunger strike. The Solitiare sustains damage that prevented it working & once its out of Irish waters Maura calls off her hunger strike.
-Spring 2009- community attempts to stop the compound at Glengad being built. Willie Corduff is viciously beaten by masked men at night whilst occupying a truck. Shell nets to prevent sand martins nesting are repeatedly removed by the community.
-Spring/Summer 2009- dredging boats arrive in the bay & are repeatedly stopped by kayakers & swimmers.
-June 2009- Pat O'Donnell's fishing boat is boarded by two masked & armed men who proceed to sink the boat. Held on the boat for two hours Pat & his crew-mate manage to escape on to their life boat but the boat is lost. The Solitaire returns to the area & Pat O'Donnell & his son are arrested & have their remaining boats impounded. Two of Shell's main obstacles who refused to bought off, are therefore removed from the area. With a huge state prescence; hundreds of Garda & two navy boats, the Solitaire manages to lay its pipe.
-Summer 2009- oral hearing into the proposed pipeline route through & around Rossport. The local community present their case against Shell.
-November 2009- An Bord Pleanala state that whilst wanting to grant permission to the on-shore pipeline; the proposed route is unnacceptable for health & safety reasons. A massive victory for the local community. A new route is recommended through the estuary-one previously ruled out for environmental & economic reasons.
-Summer 2010- Shell enter Sruth Fhada Conn estuary with two massive drilling rigs to take borehole samples for their survey of the new proposed route. Throughout the summer the borehole operation is fustrated & delayed by community walk outs & occupations of the rigs.
-August 2010- oral hearing into route through the estuary. Community once again sits through 6 weeks of arguing against Shell lawyers & experts.
Jan 2011- An Bord Pleanala announce approval of new route.
Work in 2011
So work has started at the compound at Aghoose. A 2km perimeter compound is proposed to be built here. From here the tunnel boring machine (TBM) will work. Materials will be taken in & out of this compound with up to 450 truck movements a day. Once the TBM is in place it will tunnel under the estuary & across land at Glengad to the receiving compound. This is meant to take 15 months.
The focus of resistance this year is stopping this work; everything from fence erecting to blockading trucks. This year is a land year; the water based stuff is pretty much over. There will be a massive security prescence. IRMS are the firm used; a company with a history of links to neo-fascism & violence. We can also expect Garda violence & arrests. If you are arrested & get charged; a not guilty plea will mean travelling back & fro to court for a few months.
Irish history is something that can be an issue for activists travelling from the UK not least because modern Irish History is heavily shaped by British imperialism. Until 1921 Ireland was the oldest colony of Britain and today Britain still controls the Northern six counties of Ireland. The spectre of this imperialism still plays a part in progressive politics in Ireland today.
Perhaps the most controversial period for UK activists coming to Ireland is the most recent war in Ireland largely fought between the Republican Movement and the various arms of the British State. While many people in Britain do not understand this conflict its important that activists get some understanding of the issues around these events popularly known as "The Troubles". This conflict while often portrayed as a religious conflict between Catholics (republicans) and Protestants (loyalists) in reality was at its core a class conflict with the working class on both sides but particularly Catholics living in enforced poverty. It is in this light many progressive activists have strong opinions on what is often called "The North".
While the republican movement in Ireland were the main force who fought the British Army this does not mean that all people who oppose imperialism are republicans or that all anti imperialists agreed with republican tactics. It is worth bearing in mind that many activists in Ireland either formed their opinions or participated in various movements shaped in some way by anti imperialism Activists in Ireland have a very different opinion of that conflict than what is presented in mainstream British books, schools, media and culture. For example many people in Ireland do not see the pre 1997 conflict as mindless violence on the part of the IRA as it is often portrayed in the UK. Taking an anti-imperialist stance most progressive activists see the core of the problem in The North as British imperialism. This does not mean they necessarily support the IRA or its campaign but that they see successive British governments as the major problem and the IRA was just a reaction to this aggression.
How does this shapes people today?
While on a day to day level people can resent certain phrases like "the British Isles" when referring to Ireland and Britain, it has lead to more deep seated feeling that can cause tensions. While there is no one "irish experience" some Irish people strongly resent being told what to do by people from the UK (particularly England) as they feel it replicates old hierarchies. Its always worth remembering when talking about things like direct action there are many people in Ireland with a vast amount of experience around political activism and that you have as much to learn in Ireland as people in Ireland have to learn from your experiences. Most importantly enjoy yourself and learn from activists and people who come from different perspectives, united in a common cause.
This area of NW Mayo (Erris) is predominately blanket bog, rough grazing land, beaches & rugged sea cliffs. Thousands of years ago through a combination of climate change & deforestation the once forested area became blanket bog and was settled for farming. The bog land is grazed by sheep & cut for turf (peat) which is the local source of fuel & is used in most houses locally for heating. Most of the bog is held in commonage with people having grazing and turf cutting rights. The bog is part of a Special Area of Conservation called the Glenamoy bog complex which is protected under EU law. Land nearer the coastal areas are mainly grazing land; cattle, sheep & donkeys. Many people have their own vegetable gardens tucked away in sheltered areas. The area is surrounded by a rugged coastline & fishing is a major part of life here with the sea providing both food & income to many people in the area. The bay & estuary are also SAC's. Erris is a Gaeltacht area which means that it is Irish speaking. These districts were first officially recognised during the early years of the Irish Free State, after the Gaelic revival as part of government policy to restore the Irish language.
Travelling to Mayo:
The best way is to get a rail & sail from Britain to Dublin/Belfast/Ballina.This is a walk on fare that you can get from any train station in the UK & includes the ferry. It costs about £30 to Dublin, £48 to Ballina (single) but varies depending on times you're travelling. Or you can just go to Dublin/Belfast & then hitch or get a Bus Eireann. Bikes can go on trains & buses in Ireland but you are meant to pay about 10 euros. The camp is about 35 miles from Ballina. There is one bus a day at 5.15pm from Dunnes Stores in Ballina. They will usually drop you off at camp. Its a minibus called McGraths & costs about 10 euros. Hitching is pretty easy-ask the camp for directions.
The camp is run by everyone mucking in. We ask 25 euros a week donation towards food & running costs. No-one will be turned away however because of lack of funds. There are rotas for cooking & washing up & various site maintenance jobs. Meetings are run by consensus & actions are planned by everyone who wants to be involved. We have a camp garden for veg growing that always needs help so there is plenty to do if actions aren't your kind of thing. The camp has a no illegal drugs policy at all times & no alcohol except for friday & saturday night. The camp also has a safe space policy. The camp is an action camp & is a place to work but we have lots of fun too! Hope to see you over the Summer.