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Shell gas protest costs €11m in garda overtime

The Independent

Shell gas protest costs €11m in garda overtime

By Tom Brady Security Editor

Monday August 04 2008

POLICING the protesters at the controversial Shell gas pipeline has cost €11m in garda overtime — an amount second only to that spent combating organised crime in Dublin in the force’s budget.

Protesters at the Corrib gas site have contributed to a garda overtime bill that is more than half the €20m set aside for the massive Operation Anvil crackdown on gang crime in the capital.

The size of the policing bill footed by the State is revealed as senior officials from the Department of Justice warn that scarce resources are being diverted from the war on serious crime.

Senior gardai have already expressed fears about the overtime funds running out before the end of the summer, with the force’s chief administrative officer, John Leamy, warning in April that the cash-strapped Government will not tolerate a “cap-in-hand” approach this year.

This estimated cost of the gas protest at Rossport has rocketed by nearly a third in three months, since the last estimate was €8.6m in April.

Operation Anvil remains a Justice priority, with €20m ringfenced, but there is anger in the department that more than half of this figure has now been spent at the Corrib pipeline site on overtime alone.

Bitter

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is now considering asking Shell to help foot the €11m bill, which could see a bitter legal wrangle take place — the company has a right to a reasonable expectation of a safe and secure working environment for its employees in Mayo.

Officials pointed out that the banks contribute towards the annual cost of garda cash escorts, while policing bills for some public and sporting events were met by the organisers.

One official told the Irish Independent last night: “There is growing concern at garda overtime costs as the need for financial restraints is evident.

“At a time when gardai are targeting organised crime through operations like Anvil, which accounts for the largest subhead for overtime payments, the policing operation at Rossport continues to devour valuable resources.”

He acknowledged that people had a right to protest but argued that there was a price to pay for everything.

“That current price is €11m and rising — money which could be re-routed to frontline crime fighting,” he said.

He said that while the minister might ask Shell to contribute to the policing cost, the company had a right to a reasonable expectation that the State would provide a safe and secure working environment for its employees and contractors in Mayo.

Several gardai have sustained injuries in violent clashes. Last year a group of Shell to Sea campaigners, who have been highly critical of the policing of the protests at the proposed refinery site at Bellanaboy, handed in a batch of complaints to the Garda Ombudsman Commission.

The complaints were lodged by Philip McGrath, who was one of the so-called Rossport Five, a group of men who were jailed in 2006 because of their opposition to the pipeline.

Campaigners had already raised the issue with the Garda Complaints Board and taken private prosecutions in court against named gardai.

– Tom Brady Security Editor

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