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Taoiseach should affirm the right to protest against Shell in Mayo

6 Apr 2011

Gardai must be suspended and policing policy reviewed after comments about raping protester

Friends of the Earth has called for an immediate review of the policing policies and practices around the Corrib gas project in the wake of a taped conversation between Gardai laughing at the idea of raping a female protester they had just arrested. The environmental justice organisation says the revelations highlight how the democratic rights of Irish communities and campaigners to object and protest have been undermined by policing in Mayo. A spokesperson said this is the common experience of communities living near Shell's pipelines and refineries around the world and called on the Taoiseach to affirm the right to protest in safety in his home county.

Oisín Coghlan, Friends of the Earth Director, commented:
"These shocking remarks by Gardai about raping a protester reveal the attitudes underlying the policing of the Corrib gas project. The confidence of people who might want to report a rape to the Gardai will undoubtedly be undermined by these remarks. The confidence of the local community in Erris was undermined a long time ago because of how the Gardai have policed those who live near to the Shell project and object to it. This is the common experience of communities living near Shell's pipelines and refineries around the world"

In early 2007 a fact-finding report by an international delegation of human rights and environmental justice investigators was organised by Friends of the Earth International. It found that there was inappropriate management of protest situations by Gardai in Mayo due either to inadequate training or to a deliberate policy decision. Later that year the Garda Ombudsman Commission wrote to the Minister for Justice asking for a review of policy and practice in relation to the policing of Corrib project but he refused. The tape supports the views of activists that things have only become worse over the intervening years.

Molly Walsh, Friends of the Earth Campaigner, said
"I have visited Mayo frequently over the last six years and I have felt increasingly disturbed by the way the community affected by Shell is deliberately intimidated. The threats and actual violence against campaigners in Mayo are ongoing. Even yesterday a female campaigner had to visit a doctor as a result of being punched by a Garda in the stomach. In the context of a decade of intimidation and actual violence this is just a tiny glimpse of the reality of life since Shell has come to Mayo."

Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, a South African environmental justice organization, who participated in the 2007 trip said:
"Having talked and walked with the protesters in County Mayo, and come face to face with the Gardai, it is clear that the state is using the presence of police to intimidate society in a democratic state, where a majority community veto of a project should be respected as a democratic right. The threat of rape indicates the brutality and impunity of the relationship between corporate power and the state - evident not only in the Global South, in places such as Nigeria but ever so more in the Global North."

Friends of the Earth groups around the world work with communities who live near Shell pipelines, depots and refineries to document their experiences and address their grievances. Again and again we have seen the environmental and human rights concerns of these "fenceline communities" disregarded and their protests ignored by Shell. Worse, the power and influence of this global oil company has had a corrosive effect on the relationship between affected citizens and the state that should act to protect and vindicate their rights, including their right to protest safely.

Friends of the Earth has echoed the call from the National Womens' Council that the Gardai involved in the taped conversation should be suspended immediately.
"No protester, no woman, no citizen should be faced with Gardai like those involved in this taped conversation. The Taoiseach should publicly affirm the right to protest safely in his home county and order an immediate review by the justice minister of policy and practice in respect of Corrib policing," Mr Coghlan concluded.

1. Molly's experience of policing in Mayo is reflected in a new blog posting called "No Consent".
2. Read the report of the Friends of the Earth International fact-finding delegation to Mayo in 2007.
3. The reports produced by Friends of the Earth International with fenceline communities and the wider Shell Accountability Campaign are online here.

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