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The Sunday Times: Corrib gas protesters are walking all over the supine gardai

October 08, 2006
Comment: Liam Fay 
 
According to protesters against the proposed Corrib gas terminal, the deployment of gardai at the site is a “waste of taxpayers’ money”. The more belligerent and intransigent the Bellanaboy demonstration becomes, however, the more economical the police presence appears. Call it a civics lesson for slow learners.

Throughout last week, phalanxes of gardai were required to escort 70 or so Shell personnel into and out of the site, in the teeth of intimidation by an angry mob of around 200. Among the more polite taunts flung by protesters at the workers, many of whom are locals, were “scab”, “traitor” and “may ye die roaring”.

Had police officers not been present in sufficient numbers to ensure their safe passage to their place of employment, these citizens would have been denied their civic right to go to work. The gardai were merely upholding the law — which is precisely what they’re paid to do.

For months, construction and security crews had been prevented by an illegal blockade from entering the Bellanaboy property. On Tuesday, gardai bodily removed dozens of protesters and towed away their obstructing vehicles, freeing up access to the site for workers.

With typically shrill hyperbole, campaign leaders immediately claimed they were victims of a crackdown by oppressive state forces.

They accused gardai of provocation and bullyboy tactics. Yet, as the week wore on, these terms seemed more apt for the behaviour of protesters.

On Thursday, gardai agreed to scale back their presence at the site. Crash barriers were removed to allow protesters to drive to the terminal gates, where they were addressed by Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Four (formerly Five).

Corduff spoke using a megaphone loaned to him by Superintendent Joseph Gannon, the officer leading the garda operation. Despite such goodwill gestures by gardai, protesters intensified their obstruction, staging a renewed blockade on Friday morning. The police then had no choice but to reinforce their numbers.

The Corrib gas project has been approved by an exhaustive planning process. Shell is, therefore, entitled to proceed with it. Those opposed to the terminal have a right to protest peacefully. They do not have a right forcibly to stop others attending work.

The illegality of the attempted blockade is not some minor detail or rhetorical by-the-way. It is the central issue.

Why, for instance, should Shell comply with the statutory health and safety regulations governing facilities such as the Corrib terminal? The answer, of course, is that the company is legally obliged to do so. Sooner or later, the Bellanaboy protesters must learn that they, too, are subject to the law of the land.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2091-2393570.html

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