5 people in Rossport, Co Mayo were jailed for protesting Shell's plans to lay a very risky pipeline across their lands in a deal shrouded in mystery and the typical backroom dealing that often clings to Irish politics. I am bad at describing the background to such things so I'm taking an extract from a web site set up to bring attention to this whole debacle:
"While media attention here focuses across the Irish Sea and beyond on arrests and searches in relation to the London bombs, five men from Mayo in the west of Ireland have spent most of the last month in a Dublin jail.
Their crime is that they tried to block Shell from building a natural-gas pipeline across their land and kept trying even after Shell got a court injunction against them. That put them in contempt of court, and in prison until they ''purge their contempt''.
While the President of Ireland's High Court heaps some of his own verbal contempt on them, and respectable opinion tsk-tsks about their tactics, the men have caught the imaginations of much of the public, and an increasingly spirited campaign has grown in support of them with hundreds of people picketing Shell stations and a ''solidarity camp'' set up in Mayo on the pipeline route.
The story has obvious international dimensions. The rape of Ogoni lands in Nigeria by the self-same petro-giant has already been highlighted by campaigners (it's just 10 years since the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in Nigeria), and eyebrows have at last begun to be raised about the sweetheart deal that brought the company to the Mayo coast.
''I lecture to my students about the way Exxon Mobil rips off Equatorial Guinea, with the country getting only 12 per cent of the revenue from its own oil,'' a development-studies academic in Dublin told Counterpunch. ''But here's Shell in Ireland getting a deal to extract Irish gas and the Irish State and people get absolutely nothing.'' Campaigners wonder if some relevant funds might be sitting in a politician's offshore account.
The gas in question comes from under the sea, the Corrib field, off the Mayo coast. Instead of processing it offshore, Shell has gone for the cheaper option of pumping it at high pressure across part of the Erris peninsula to a terminal at Bellanaboy, in this boggy beautiful corner of Ireland. It's that cost-saving decision, never fully subjected to local scrutiny and safety assessment, that brought Shell into conflict with some residents.
While the terminal has passed through the planning process, the pipeline itself is in a regulatory black hole where, it seems, all that is required is consent directly from the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources. It has already got ''rolling consents'' for preparatory work, and the rest would have sailed through except for the protests indeed Shell had already gone beyond what was authorised. But now the Government is under pressure to carry out a credible safety assessment.
Even the Minister admits this sort of pipeline is unprecedented, and it passes close to people's homes. At its maximum design pressure it would have a ''burn radius'' of more than half a mile. There's a school and a pub near the terminal.
The five men said in a statement this week: ''Pipelines rupture. No pipeline engineer intends this to happen but it does with sickening frequency. The outlandish pipeline here proposed to be forced in close proximity past our houses is the stuff of nightmares. What they do to us, they will do to you.''
The campaign has exposed the hazards of ''business as usual'' in the relations between companies and governments. As the Irish Times reports: ''The first review commissioned by the Minister was carried out by BPA, a company half-owned by Shell, and a second review, published on the Minister's website last week, was written by AEA Technology, a company which does business with Shell.'' With more gas and oil exploration in Irish waters still to come, the outcome of this dispute will set an important precedent.
To learn more go to http://homepage.eircom.net/~guerin/
And if you go here as a bonus you can learn all about the Irish government's plans to build a a road across the plain of Tara: http://homepage.eircom.net/~guerin/
Taking care of the environment: less of an ideal for the Irish government than something you set on fire, dance around and then wonder why you live in a heap of ashes.