Why a ‘Breakdown in Trust’? A brief look at the Frontline Human Rights Report

May 6, 2010

Last week Frontline, a prominent Human Rights organisation released a report entitled ‘Breakdown in Trust: A Report on the Corrib gas dispute’. The report, compiled by barrister Brian Barrington, is a damning indictment of human rights abuses that have been suffered by campaigners against Shell over the last four years, and outlines a comprehensive list of recommendations to attempt to improve the situation. The strongest theme which struck this observer upon reading the report was that of the overzealous use of force against protesters by the Gardai and IRMS (security for Shell), and then a very conscious and systematic process of attempting to cover this up through false statements to the media and the compiler of the report. Does this sound like an exaggeration in the over-active imagination of a protester? Read the following, or indeed the original report, and make up your mind then.

The beating of Willie Corduff, April 22/23 2009 (p.51-57)

Shell returned to Glengad on April 22 2009, to set up their compound, sparking protests from local people and their supporters. These were due to concerns at the fact that this compound did not have planning permission, and wider concerns about Shell’s dangerous project. As part of these protests, Willie Corduff and another man went under a truck on the site, stopping it from moving. The other man was removed some time later, but Corduff managed to stay under the truck despite attempts by the Gardai to remove him. He stayed there all day, and into the night. At around midnight, fences were damaged at the other end of the compound, a few hundred yards from where Willie Corduff was. A few hours later, Corduff was out stretching his legs, when he was set upon by IRMS security guards. He alleges that they beat him; IRMS state the ‘not a finger was placed on’ Corduff. The letter sent to Willie Corduff’s GP from the Registrar of Castlebar hospital bears extensive quotation:

“ 1. Alleged assault with ? LOC

2. Bruising on body from kicks.

3. Headaches.

4. Nausea and vomiting.”

? LOC means possible loss of consciousness. The letter goes on:

“This patient was admitted following an alleged assault by security guards. He had been kicked all over the body and had ? LOC. He had headaches, nausea and vomiting…”

An independent expert, Dr John Good, reviewed the medical and ambulance reports, and concluded that ‘hospital reports may be reasonably regarded as factual findings, and the observations in the reports and clinical notes are “totally consistent with a history of assault”.

IRMS and the Gardai lie and sow confusion

Mr Barrington found that a number of statements made by IRMS and Gardai were not true:

  • He found that Willie Corduff was semi-conscious, not conscious – consistent with being assaulted. “IRMS were not accurate when they stated that Mr Corduff was conscious, raising questions about the accuracy of their account more generally.”
  • An Irish Times article written by Peter Murtagh, which was generally very critical of protesters, stated that Shell sources said that Corduff was ‘grabbed by security men, [and] restrained’ – this contradicts the statement that ‘not a finger was laid on him’.
  • Supt Larkin of Belmullet Gardai made a number of flawed statements: he stated the day after the incident that Willie Corduff had been ‘escorted from the site’ – the Frontline report says that this is ‘clearly misleading’, as he was taken away in an ambulance on a spinal board with a neck brace on. Months later, when spoken to by Brian Barrington, Larkin said that he, even at that stage, ‘didn’t know’ if Corduff had been taken away on a stretcher, even with his investigation ‘at an advanced stage’. If this is true, he shouldn’t have said so on radio, or defended it to Frontline. He should have apologised and retracted it.
  • Furthermore, Larkin stated that Corduff had made no complaint to the Gardai about his treatment by them on the day in question – this is untrue, a detailed section on the complaint made relates to Gardai. IRMS also said that no complaints about them had been made to the Gardai – just over a week before Larkin stated that the investigation was well advanced, and IRMS had been asked to give statements.

A number of recommendations arose from the compilation of the report as a whole, but specifically relating to this incident, the report had this damning verdict: “The Corduffs have written to the Garda Siochana expressing no confidence in the investigation. In view of the above, it is understandable that this should be the case. In order to ensure confidence in the Garda Siochana, it is recommended that Mr Corduff’s complaint be reinvestigated by personnel outside Mayo.

Here is another excellent article on the beating of Willie Corduff entitled ‘The Curious Incident of the Farmer in the Compound at Nighttime’.

Pat O’Donnell, and abuse of Garda powers at sea (p.45-51)

Pat O’Donnell has opposed the destruction of the marine environment that is his workplace and his livelihood since Shell started trying to impose the Corrib gas project on this area. In 2008 and 2009, the Solitaire pipe-laying vessel arrived in Broadhaven Bay to lay pipe for Shell through O’Donnell’s fishing grounds, and without his consent. While the report criticises the government for failing to resolve the competing property rights of Shell and O’Donnell, the Gardai very clearly made their decision, and set out to vindicate those of the former, at the expense of Pat O’Donnell.

On 9 September 2008, Pat O’Donnell, his son Jonathan, and another fisherman were arrested in Broadhaven Bay, while protecting their fishing grounds and equipment. They were held for six hours, then released without charge. The next day, 10 September, O’Donnell was arrested again in similar circumstances. A habeas corpus application was brought to court for his release, and to challenge the legality of his detention. In the normal course of events, these applications are the first thing heard by any court, given their importance – but this one was put off until after lunch. And O’Donnell was conveniently released at 2.03pm that day – the judge was due to sit two minutes later, at 2.05pm. This meant that the inquiry into the legality of his detention could not be heard.

Barrington is particularly scathing about the manner in which O’Donnell’s boat was impounded in June 2009. After a repeat of similar issues to the previous year, with arrest at sea, detention and then release without charge for both Pat and his son Jonathan O’Donnell, Supt Larkin asked the Naval Service to inspect O’Donnell’s boat. They in turn passed it on to Dept of Transport, who agreed, and wrote: “Suggest whoever attends gives the Supt [ie Supt Larkin] a call first and requests that owner attends while we are on board.”. O’Donnell wasn’t permitted by Gardai to attend and address any potential issues. Larkin was empowered to act by legislation two days before the arrival of the Solitaire. No other boat in Broadhaven Bay was surveyed that day; only one other was through the whole summer. All of this together indicates ‘an improper motive’ in the detention of the boat by the Gardai, and that the detention of O’Donnell’s boat was unlawful when he was not permitted to attend.

‘Black Monday’ – Pullathomas Pier (p.35-37)

In June 2007, Shell arrived at McGrath’s Pier, Pullathomas, to install a portacabin to help with their survey work. However, the lane of access to the pier is owned by the McGrath family, who would not consent to Shell using their land. This was made clear to Inspector Gannon, in charge of the Garda operation that day by Paddy McGrath, who told him so, and then proceeded to get his solicitor on the phone to speak to the Garda, who ignored him. Gannon later stated to the Irish Times that he was unaware of all of this, but footage taken on the day, leads to the conclusion that ‘it is very difficult to see how he could not have been aware’.

One woman who tried to get up on the Shell digger to stop it was flung by Gardai towards a ditch – Frontline find this to be ‘disproportionate’, as other Gardai nearby could have helped with her safe removal. The core of this conflict arose from the contested nature of the right to access the pier – these are the findings in relation to Gannon’s role therein: “The Garda in charge warned of, in his own words, the ‘probability of people getting seriously hurt’. That being so, it was all the more important that the Gardai had clarity on this issue [that of entitlement to go on the pier].’ He [Gannon] should have clarified any entitlement, and/or spoken to the solicitor.” They go on to find that parts of the operation were ‘poorly conducted, leading to higher risks to safety than necessary’. The Garda Ombudsman recommended that Gannon have ‘a less serious breach of discipline’ case considered. The Garda Commissioner rejected this, but the Ombudsman have written to them asking for an explanation for this.

Speaking of being flung into ditches, Frontline also reviewed footage of the policing of protests at Bellanaboy refinery in 2006/07 (p.34-35). They found that the manner in which protesters were treated was ‘disproportionate’ – as has so often been the case. Further, the ‘no arrest’ strategy taken by the Gardai was not correct; it doesn’t matter if they didn’t want to help people into martyrdom, people still should have been arrested, as if not ‘force may be unnecessarily used’ particularly as frustration builds – ‘footage supports the view that this is what in fact happened’.

There were a large number of other issues that got significant coverage in the report, such as improper surveillance, wholly inadequate vetting of security personnel, regular breaches of regulations by Shell, supposed intimidation by protesters and republican direction of protests (both dismissed), manhandling of a human rights observer, lack of ID on many public order Gardai and, again and again, a combination of ignorance and wilful failure to observe rights, while misleading protesters and the media.

Recommendations…(p.59-63)

As well as the recommendation that Willie Corduff’s assault being reinvestigated by Gardai from outside the district, a number of other recommendations were made, within a context of an ‘overall pattern of failure to take issues raised by protesters and residents seriously – even when they have the law on their side.’. Some of them were fairly startling:

  • ‘Serious issues have been raised by this report regarding the policing of the project, as well as of the project more generally. Should the pipeline proceed along a contested route, there is a real potential for confrontation. It is therefore recommended that HR NGOs agree to appoint a HR observer in the event that planning permission for the pipeline is given along a contested route.’ The Gardai should cooperate with, and ensure respect for, these observers.
  • In 2007, the Garda Ombudsman requested permission to investigate the policing of the protests up here. They were turned down. Frontline found this decision should be overturned, as ‘this has created the impression that the State does not want the Garda Síochána held properly to account’.
  • Many protesters think the Gardai are biased – ‘this report has certainly highlighted real concerns in this regard’ – the Gardai need to do more to ‘human-rights proof’ their actions, including getting a lawyer with the relevant expertise to advise them.
  • Often with police complaints, it is clear that there was a wrong but it is not clear what police officer was responsible’. The focus within the Garda Ombudsman should be on establishing the truth, rather than just on getting prosecutions. The Ombudsman should publish reports on outcomes of appropriate investigations.
  • Due to the mistrust of the Gardai in the area, it is recommended that Gardai who have been long-serving on the protests be deployed to other duties.
  • ‘It is totally unacceptable for Gardai in public order work not to wear ID and it is recommended that this be addressed as a matter of urgency’.

The response to the report has been swift, and predictable. The Minister for Justice asserted that he had full confidence in the Garda operation in Mayo when the report was still warm from the printers, while IRMS security threatened to sue Frontline for the ‘allegations’ that Willie Corduff was assaulted. This is bluster and empty threats, attempting to intimidate through the legal system. And in this case, I can’t see it working – what proof do Frontline actually have – aside from a number of medical reports, both from the time and since, telephone transcripts where the seriousness of Corduff’s condition is acknowledged by IRMS, conflicting accounts from the Gardai and IRMS (both with each other and with established facts) – I mean, aside from that, what proof do they actually have!?

These recommendations amount to a call for deep-rooted change in the culture and practices of the Gardai in relation to the Corrib dispute, as human rights issues mount up. The findings of the Frontline report fundamentally undermine the assertion that all is fine, that the Gardai are doing their job with a neutrality befitting their role. And it does so in an unarguable fashion, with incidents meticulously documented, and the lies and half-truths of the Gardai clearly exposed as such. The next challenge is to ensure that it doesn’t become just another worthy report gathering dust on a shelf.

‘Unlawful detention’ of protestors – Do Human Rights matter?

April 22, 2010

The ongoing saga unfolding in North Mayo around the Corrib gas project has seen years of protests and opposition from the local community and their supporters. In recent times, one of the most hotly contested arenas has been the courts, as more and more campaigners are charged and prosecuted for their opposition to Shell. But many of these charges seem to be more about persecuting the campaign than upholding law and order, and recent sittings of the courts have shown the Gardai to be far from even-handed in their policing of the protestors.

Former Garda sergeant Benny McCabe has stated that the Gardai have acted with ‘impunity’, and described the approach to the policing of the protests as ‘anathema to the spirit of community policing’. Mr McCabe even went as far as to state :

I have worked as a human rights observer with the UN, the EU and the OSCE in Cambodia, the Balkans, South Africa and in many post-conflict situations, but I have never been treated the way I was in Glengad in late June last year”

March’s special sitting of Belmullet District Court, to deal with cases arising from protests against Shell’s Corrib gas project, saw 27 people before the court on a whole range of public order charges, particularly relating to supposed obstruction and failure to comply with the direction of Gardai.  And it had a startling result. Only one person was convicted, one was given the probation act, and a remarkable 25 people had all of their charges either dismissed or withdrawn, vindicating their right to the presumption of innocence. This would give any citizen cause for pause, given that the Gardai’s word is generally accepted in cases there.

The pattern is evident. Bring charges against as many people as possible, irrespective of the likelihood of achieving convictions. This is the essence of the misuse of police powers in attempting to impose huge pressure on citizens so as to make them fearful of pursuing their right to protest.

One case in particular stands out from March’s sitting, in which nine people were before the court in relation to a day when road blocking protests took place in Glengad last June while the Solitaire pipe-laying ship was in Broadhaven Bay. All of the people arrested that day were charged with relatively minor offenses under the Public Order Act, and yet Judge Devins saw fit to remand seven of the nine to prison pending trial, before her decision was overturned by the High Court after the campaigners had spent three and four days in jail. However, this was not the issue brought before the court recently. After lengthy legal argument in the test case of Eoin Lawless , Judge Haughton ruled that his detention was unlawful on three counts:

  • He was held from 2.20pm until approximately 4.30pm before being brought to a Garda station for charge. By 4.30pm the detention had become unlawful.
  • He was held in Ballina Garda Station for some hours, and was not fully charged until 9.15pm, rather than being charged expeditiously.
  • He was brought before a special sitting of Ballina court at 5.30pm the following day, which was ruled not to fulfill the requirement to face a judge ‘as soon as practicable’. A court was available in Galway at 10.30am on the relevant day, and this is where he should have been brought.

The court ruled that these matters constituted a ‘conscious and deliberate breach of the accused’s rights’. After this ruling, the cases against the other eight people were withdrawn.

As outlined on the Human Rights in Ireland (HRI) blog, these are far from insignificant matters. HRI state that the case “raises very serious questions about the disproportionate application of the law to the powerful and, legally speaking, the powerless in society, the police of our State have breached fundamental rights of the campaigners.” They further emphasise that detention for more than 24 hours is only supposed to apply to the most serious offenses – in this case, the Gardai were not even entitled to hold the accused for more than four hours. It is further stated that “in these cases detention should have been for the purpose of arrest which should have been for the purpose of bringing the accused before a judge. This is not what happened.”

The article ends in questioning the manner in which Shell appear to be able to breach laws and regulations – such as assaults by their security staff against protestors such as Willie Corduff; laying part of their pipe in Glengad without planning – while campaigners are criminalised for their actions.

Criminalisation of the campaign has happened in a number of different ways, on a progressively growing basis. People are being subject to detention, without their rights to arrest, charge and trial being properly upheld. There is a continuing application of criminal law to campaigners who, on the basis of 25 of 27 people having their presumption of innocence vindicated, do not deserve it. Many campaigners would contend that the Gardai and the DPP are making use of what has been described by the chief inspector of constabulary of the British police, talking about issues around policing of protest, as ‘a conveniently harsh legal environment’. This works hand in hand with the media’s change in recent years to sending crime correspondents to report on the campaign in Erris, and the attendant problems of dependency on Gardai for stories.

There is another striking parallel with the practice of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are legal cases taken not in the expectation of victory, but rather to attempt to limit groups, such as oppositional campaigning groups from making their protest. The threat of this type of lawsuit also intends to intimidate individuals from taking action, even before such a case becomes a reality, and to exhaust them through many months of a legal process which is often alien and intimidating. It might be argued that this is a good comparison for the current approach of the Gardai to this campaign – prosecute a large number of cases, push for the harshest possible penalties, and above all, keep campaigners under threat and pressure. This policy follows on from previous approaches to the policing here, such as the ‘no arrest’ policy which was in force in 2006 (Gardai used violence to police the protests at this time), followed by 43 arrests during the summer of 2008, none of which were followed up with charges, to today’s situation of charging as many campaigners as possible.

This all feeds into the discourse of ‘illegality’ around the demonstrations here, serving the dual purpose of ‘justifying’ Garda actions and attempting to delegitimise and criminalise the actions of people opposed to the Corrib gas project. Further, it provides a smokescreen behind which the Gardai can hide their failure to investigate fully the numerous illegalities by Shell and their associates which have been reported to them.

This issue is also very much in the public eye in the UK, following controversy over the policing of last year’s G20 protests in London, including the death of Ian Tomlinson. George Monbiot argues that a confrontational attitude to policing these types of events is not a tactical issue, but rather is ‘deeply rooted in the politics and culture of the police’. When the chief inspector of the Copenhagen police (after the recent failed COP-15 summit) justifies holding four people without charge for three weeks for the ‘crime’ of unfurling a banner at a dinner for dignitaries as follows – “When you do that kind of thing, you are going to pay for it” – it becomes difficult to argue that the culture within the police has much concern for the rights of campaigners.

If this all seems very negative, then perhaps we should look at the example of five campaigners in the UK who were recently awarded upwards of 100,000 pounds sterling in relation to a case that saw them assaulted and unlawfully detained, restricting their ‘democratic right to peaceful protest’ after a demonstration at the Mexican embassy following the killing of a journalist in the state of Oaxaca. Their solicitor had this to say:

“This case shows that policing protest unlawfully carries a high cost. This includes the severe human cost to protestors, but also the cost to the public purse and more worryingly to public confidence in the police. The implications for those I am advising in relation to G20 are clear.”

I suggest that the implications are also clear for the nine people unlawfully detained in June of last year in Erris.

Dear Pat,

March 4, 2010

I hope you’re well, and still adjusting ok to Castlerea. Things are pretty good here, and it’s been great to see people really getting it together with the solidarity actions over the last couple of weeks.

We had a protest outside the Shell offices in Belmullet last Wednesday week, good crowd and good form, even though the weather was fairly brutal, a mixture of sleet, rain showers and sun, but it was the first outing for the new banners which look fairly cool. It’s pretty important to make Shell feel the pressure anyways, make it more difficult for the employees there to just say ‘I’m only doing my job’, that they’re responsible for this disaster of a project, and in the end, for you being in jail because you’ve the courage to stand up against it.

That was the day Eoin went into Castlerea, a brilliant little example of how standing in a drain leads to being prosecuted by the Gardai around here! ‘Community policing’ all the way!!! Sounds like he was grand enough in there, and that it was cool for ye to meet up, nice one. I hear you had Joe Higgins in too, fair play to him, met him before, he’s a good man, if only there were more like him.

Then we had the car convoy protest on Sunday, which was really good, over a hundred cars between comings and goings, and a brilliant day for it, really sunny. It was really great to see so many people all stretched back into the distance from the Rossport crossroads, and again when we were up in Glengad. We were going around with Terence, and we kept driving on ahead to get some good video, so that was good craic alright. And then we had the speeches over in Ballyglass, which were really good, particularly Mary, she spoke very well. There was a great feeling of togetherness that we’ll keep going no matter what, that there’s no way we’ll allow Shell to walk all over people.

Then yesterday we were down at the solidarity demo outside the gates of Castlerea, another brutal wet day, but loads of support from people passing by which really kept the spirits up! And then Sr. Majella had us in for tea and cake, which was really good. I heard the protest at the Dáil went well too, a decent crowd from Mayo went up. We’ve had loads of emails in for you too, I’ll put them in the post along with this letter.

Just started reading Ken Saro-Wiwa’s book ‘A Month and a Day’, which is about his first time spent in prison at Shell’s behest…sounds a bit familiar… I’ll let you know how it goes. I was thinking about a poem he wrote which I think is fairly fitting for your current situation and your determination to oppose Shell’s destruction. Anyways, here it is:

Keep Out of Prison
“Keep out of prison” he wrote
“Don’t get arrested anymore”
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison

Keep well Pat, we’re all thinking of you, and we’ll be on again soon.

Please write to Pat in prison.
His address is:
Pat O’Donnell,
Castlerea Prison,
Harristown, Castlerea,
Co.Roscommon.

Alternatively you can email mayoshelltosea@gmail.com and we will pass on your email to Pat

We’re with you Pat…

February 19, 2010
  • “Pat O’Donnell – Hero and Friend”
  • “We will never, ever, let them break us down”
  • “The only thing I see that makes me proud to be Irish these days is the incorruptible and steely determined efforts of those in the shell to sea campaign in spite of the whole weight of shell, the media and the judiciary bearing down on them. Lets all help and support them in any way we can.”
  • “To be honest I really don’t know what to say. Too many of us just take whatever the state doles out. It takes a lot of guts to be the one to stand up and be counted. I really hope you have the success you deserve.”
  • “I completely disagree with the way you have been singled out by the state. Your Heroic actions during the cave rescue in 1997 have shown what kind of person you really are and not the “thug and bully” that you have been accused of.”
  • “I Have Never trusted Big Oil and
    Now even Less, my prayers are with you Pat”
  • “All I can say is that you have my heartfelt warmth for you and your community.  It is sad for Ireland that it is being eroded for us by a government who do not care or seriously do not understand what they are doing.”
  • “Just to express my infinite support for Pat & Justice for all at Shell to Sea”
  • “My fervent hope is that you stay strong and optimistic during this trying period – for these cowards of cops and judges and politicians really fear those who cannot be bought or broken.
    When this fight against Shell and their helpmeets in suits and uniforms ends, you and all those who stand with you will be vindicated – I have no doubt of that.”
  • “We are so saddened about Pat O Donnell been sent to prison.   This is a man who would do anything to help anyone.”
  • “We all understand the way governments today are doing things in a bad way.  It takes powerful strong hearted people like yourself to stand up and fight.  You are an inspiration to us all.
    It does take time to make a difference.  I hope that your future becomes bright and your livelihood survives.”
  • “I would like you to pass on my best wishes and continued support to the chief and all at shell to sea.”
  • “Solidarity with Pat O’Donnell, who’s been jailed by the state at the behest of Shell”
  • “Your situation illustrates the corporatised thuggery which is now part of normal life across the Western World.  I hope your case can help raise awareness of this and I wish you well with your attempts to protect your livelihood.”
  • “I am ashamed of how the Irish legal system has treated you and others. No words can convey how outraged I feel at your treatment. I will pray that you find the strength to endure what is ahead.”
  • “A great fighter on behalf of the local people”
  • “Hats off to Pat and all those who struggle to keep their community clean.”
  • ‘Cromwell had the law on his side but that did not make his actions just’
  • “Keep your chin up, and I am sure that as important as you must be to the cause, many others will step in to keep up the pressure on Shell, and the corrupt government officials who side with them.
    Courage and strength to you, and safe home soon.”
  • “I am filled with admiration for our wonderful heroes Pat O’Donnell and Maura Harrington who show utter selflessness and remarkable tenacity in continuing to resist Shell’s tyranny”
  • “I would like to send my support and best wishes to Pat O’Donnell in prison”
  • “I’d like to express my solidarity with your fight against Shell and those who are prepared to sell our birthright to a clean and safe environment for ourselves and for the following generations.”
  • “Just a quick note to say that to keep the chin up and you have our families support for the excellent work you are doing.”
  • “I know you are strong and like most people from our part of the world it takes a lot to put us down!”
  • “Please do not give up hope nor resolve, for even though you carry a  heavy burden, that of the soul of our nation, it has always been the few that have  made the greatest impression on history! nowhere more than our land, our island is this true, for while the people sleep and pay no heed to the injustices been suffered in their midst, one day they will wake up and claim their birthright and it will be because of men such as you!”

You can send messages of support for Pat to mayoshelltosea@gmail.com.

‘Well, we know what you’re against, but what are you for?’

January 26, 2010

So, we’re having a Wind Turbine workshop up here in Mayo this week. Why? Well, there’re a lot of reasons…

We want to show what we’re for in a practical way. Everyone knows that we’re against the Corrib Gas Project, and hopefully the reasons for that, but what’s the alternative? Well, this course is looking in the right direction.

It’s a practical example of project in the community, rather than one that’s being imposed from the outside. The work and learning is being done by people in the community, as well as visitors and the good people from V3 power leading the course, and the expertise that’ll be gained will help people around here to build their own turbines. This is turn creates a level of independence and self-sufficiency in this area, by responding to its own needs. All done in an environmentally sound fashion, both from a local and a global viewpoint. The contrast between local control and harnessing of the resource (the wind), and the damage Shell want to do for the good of their shareholders alone is also a fairly strong one. And at the end of the course, we’ll have a new turbine, and the ability to generate electricity for use when the camp is set up again.

People aren’t being told what’s good for them, as if they hadn’t the first clue themselves. And the benefit will be to people around here, without the massive safety and environmental impacts on the area of the disastrous Corrib Gas Project.

There are alternatives, and most of them involve people taking back control of things that affect their lives, and doing them in a way that is beneficial to all.

Which is pretty much what the Shell to Sea campaign is all about, and why we’re so happy to be hosting this course.

Paul Williams up for an IFTA!?!?

January 15, 2010

Paul Williams documentary ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’ has been nominated for a Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) in the Current Affairs category. It’s controversial, biased, and poorly made – so why is it being nominated?

Williams certainly isn’t a friend to Shell to Sea, and this is long-established. His use of (or should that read ‘by’) unnamed Garda ‘sources’ – showing up the inherent problems of the dependence of crime correspondents on Gardai (good stories on this problem in relation to Corrib here and here) for stories – to try to blacken the campaign through supposed association with republican paramilitaries began in 2006, and he upped the ante with ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’.

Needless to say this was more of the same, with some highlights including describing Maura Harrington as ‘the pin-up girl of every sect of the republican movement’, talking about non-existent violence and intimidation, without the inconvenience of having to back this up with anything like facts. Perhaps the best though was trying to portray Willie Corduff, and the protest at large, as being against progress, with the ‘evidence’ presented was that Willie’s father supposedly opposed rural electrification. What he actually opposed was its punitive costs, as was shown by a recent Would You Believe programme.

The Sunday Business Post, who would be quite favourable to Shell in general, (the clue’s in the ‘Business’ part), said the documentary was ‘more heat than light‘, ‘never seemed neutral’, and was full of Williams’ ‘loaded observations’. Even the Indo (controlled by the O’Reilly clan, who also control Providence Resources, a natural resource company) thought it was over the top.

Eoghan Harris defended the programme, but then he would, as part owner of Praxis Pictures (the makers of ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’) wouldn’t he?

There were also a number of complaints to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) about breaches of obligations to ‘fairness, objectivity, and impartiality in current affairs’. Frank McDonald, the Environmental Editor of the Irish Times called it ‘one of the most tendentious pieces of television‘ he had seen in a long time. While none of the complaints were upheld, this is hardly the background against which one gets a national award.

It’s very important to see this documentary in context – it was aired just before the serious ramping up of Garda numbers in Erris is preparation for the arrival of the Solitaire, and given its tone, was certainly laying the groundwork for Gardai to ‘deal with‘ the protesters.

And then, a few weeks after the airing of the programme, came the coup de grace. Williams’ credibility was massively undermined by the revelation of having been a guest of Shell (the only journalist invited) at the famous Ireland v England rugby match in 2007 at Croke Park (scroll down for Phoenix article). He has been noticeably quiet on the subject of the Corrib Gas Controversy since…

So, given all of this, how is this documentary up for an award? I’m not sure, but there might be a clue in the fact that apparently the different channels get to nominate their favourites, which then get get narrowed down to a shortlist. Some would suggest that this leads to a lot of nods to TV3, especially when TV3 are so prickly about RTE looking down their noses at them.

Whatever about the speculation in this last paragraph, the bookies have put ‘The Battle for the Gasfield’ as third favourite, of four. Let’s hope they’re right, and this travesty of a programme doesn’t get any undeserved recognition…

‘Slick’ Garda PR operation bounces back in their face

January 8, 2010

So, the new year starts in the Garda Press Office, what we like to call the Ministry of Truth, now what’ll we get our teeth into first? Well, it’d be great to dispel that persistently bad smell around our policing of the Corrib Gas Project for Shell now, wouldn’t it? Supt Gannon feeling a little bit of heat from the Garda Ombudsman, along with two Gardai being convicted of assault within the last few weeks, not to mention the fallout from the Murphy report; it’s time to put them all straight! We could try an interview in the Times, and a slot on the ridiculously sympathetic Pat Kenny Show with the recently retired Supt. McNamara as the star (as everyone knows, you cannot speak ill of the retired) – all sounds great! OK, so his comparison with the policing in Copenhagen was a bit ridiculous – even better than extensive abuses of human rights, ouch – but sure you can’t have everything.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that.

The headline in Thursday’s article in the Irish Times read “Gardai acted with impunity at Corrib site, says ex-Garda”. Now that wasn’t exactly the idea, was it?

Unfortunately AfrI Human Rights observer, and former Garda detective, Benny McCabe managed to get in a strong rebuttal of Supt. McNamara’s claims, and put him firmly back in his place. Saying things like “I have worked as a human rights observer with the UN, the EU and the OSCE in Cambodia, the Balkans, South Africa and in many post-conflict situations, but I have never been treated the way I was in Glengad in late June last year,” and the way that the Gardai act in Mayo is “anathema to the spirit of community policing” – none of this was part of the plan.

In fact, it makes them look pretty stupid, and seriously undermines them and their claims of ‘move along now, nothing to see here‘. That someone who’s been part of the force feels the need contradict their lies and show the real story up here – now that definitely wasn’t part of the script.

It must feel fairly bad that their attempt to retrieve the situation has actually succeeded in making it worse. What a pity. But then again, when you’ve nothing but lies to work with, it’s quite difficult.

As they say in Slovakia, you can’t make a whip out of shit.

The Peace Tree at Belmullet Garda Station – another example of how much they love you.

Judge Haughton flew over the cuckoo’s nest…

December 14, 2009

I had the slightly surreal experience last week of sitting in Belmullet Court House, half-reading ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and half-listening to Judge Haughton and the Gardai dispensing their own form of ‘justice’.

Now I’m not sure how many people reading this will have read the above book, but to ridiculously over-simplify (please indulge me a few lines), it’s about a mental institution where the patients are terrorised into submission by the ‘Big Nurse’, who while all the time doing her job very professionally, robs them of their dignity and keeps their characters completely suppressed, thereby keeping them docile. Then one day a big character arrives on the ward and disrupts things completely, and nothing is ever the same again… I’m not going to ruin the story, but if you haven’t already, you should read it.

Anyways, this gives an image of systems logic, circular logic that justifies itself and its existence. A logic that tries to grind people down who don’t fit with its provisions. During the week, people were called ‘disingenuous’, ‘a pillar of the community’ (with heavy sarcasm), and had the sincerity of their religious beliefs called into question by the judge, among other things – all within a certain context of course, otherwise you might think these comments a little unfair. This idea tries to take people’s dignity, their integrity, their confidence and sense of self-worth – basically the idea of breaking down the individual until they lose themselves, and can then be controlled. This is all for their own good, of course.

But this doesn’t work when you break it down and look at the court as something fundamentally opposed to us, another obstacle to be negotiated (rather than a neutral arbiter); then that power goes, then they can’t impose probably their strongest sanctions, shame, fear, the inevitability of having to bow your knee…

This is what Maura Harrington said to that after she got a ‘barbaric’ nine-month suspended sentence (for doing 160 euro worth of damage to a net which shouldn’t have been there in the first place), which was activated after she refused to sign a bond :
“Given the continuing imposition of the proposed Corrib Gas Project, the reality at Glengad is that Justice and the Law are mutually exclusive. My reality exists in the interest of Justice, and I can live with it. You Judge, must live with your reality and that is an appalling vista.”

Her husband Naoise O Mongain clapped and was held in contempt of court, then brought back to talk to the judge, where he insisted on doing his business through Irish (as is his right), but the judge didn’t want to engage with this, just wanted to get it ‘these games’, as he called them, out of the way. Kind of like his attitude to us all through the week. Small gestures, but significant all the same. Despite what he’d like to think, the court and its rule are usable by others too.

And far from grinding down people in the campaign, court provides a space where people meet up, it tightens the group, facing up to injustice together, there’s even a social element to it. People’s restraint under the heaviest of provocation, the invasion of the area, has been incredible on the whole.

I’m not naïve enough to say that the courts can’t do anything to us, but it doesn’t hold this big fear for us any more, it’s not a huge dark unknown, and that takes away a serious weapon from them.

The Garda Ombudsman: Creating the illusion of democracy in its absence…

December 5, 2009

Spreading responsibility (but not the power to hold accountable) out into bodies that are essentially still tied to the centre, to governmental and political control. Creating new bodies that aren’t tainted by association with corruption (O Cuiv uses them as a fig leaf for inaction), due to the simple fact that they’re new…

Let’s have a look at the Garda Ombudsman: It was set up because of the Morris Tribunal, because the Gardai stitched up the McBreartys in Donegal, because it wasn’t possible to sweep under the carpet with the usual ‘bad apples’ excuses, because it was too big, because the Gardai demonstrably need someone looking over their shoulders to keep them honest. The obvious assumption is that the Garda Ombudsman would have a reasonably high level of convictions – but that wouldn’t appear to be the case. Instead we have craven professions that the Gardai are not intrinsically corrupt (well, if you say it, that’s alright then), whereas the Garda Ombudsman was created under a very different assumption, one backed up by years of painstaking investigation. On the other hand, the Ombudsman based this premature opinion on such things as having to get the Garda Representative Association off their back. On passing files to the DPP which were immediately shot down and never prosecuted, passing over a huge proportion of their complaints on to the Gardai themselves -to the Gardai themselves – for investigation of alleged Garda misdemeanors. There’s transparency for you.

Mind you, they did ask the Minister to be allowed to investigate the policing of the protests up in Mayo – that kind of idea was swiftly knocked on its head. Before they even do anything they’re hamstrung by the fact that they have no actual powers of sanction (only of investigation) – powers of sanction lie only with the DPP (who almost invariably refuse to take cases – they’ve turned down all of the files that they were sent in relation to cases in Mayo) and with the Garda Commissioner himself. They can only make recommendations to these bodies – that’s why it’s such a big deal that they’ve gone and publicly asked for Supt. Joe Gannon to be disciplined in relation to the Pullathomas Pier incident in 2007. They’ll probably still be turned down by the Garda Commissioner for this disciplining too, but it’s a good thing that they’re looking for it all the same. It disturbs the comfy image that the Gardai like to give of being impartial and objective, and hopefully makes people question their actions and their credibility. Hopefully.

And to top it all off, they’re political appointees too – the current head worked with Dermot Ahern in Foreign Affairs, and was appointed “without an open and transparent recruitment process”, according to the ICCL.

The Garda Ombudsman seem to have grown some kind of backbone with making it publicly known that they want Supt. Gannon punished, but is this just trying to reclaim their lost credibility, or is it a genuine attempt to right a wrong?

Maybe the real question is, given their lack of teeth and their real function of giving an illusion of democracy, does it matter?

Some interesting related stories
Apparently they’re ‘one of the most secretive police forces in the world‘ too.
Two gardai were yesterday convicted of assault after a case brought by the Ombudsman

What vindication feels like…

November 9, 2009

The week gone by has seen some serious changes to the landscape of the campaign up here. We’ll put up some impressions on what it means soon, but for the moment suffice it to say that we’ve had a serious victory against Shell with An Bord Pleanala coming back saying that the “design documentation” and “risk assessment” are both so seriously defective that they fail to “present a complete, transparent and adequate demonstration that the pipeline does not pose an unacceptable risk to the public”;

This means that the people who’ve opposed this for so long have been right, that no matter what vested interests try to put us down, we’ve been on the money. And all that will delay Shell a good few months at least, and gives a tangible victory to the campaign, which is really something to that doesn’t come along very often, but which gives a massive boost and huge hope when it does. It should have gone a lot further , but we’re moving in the right direction anyway, and that is really something to be happy about.

We have weekly meetings in Inver Community Hall on a Sunday evening every week, and last night was no different. Except that it was. The laughs were longer, the crowd was bigger, everybody was looking forward to what we can do next, talking about how we can keep pushing it – the atmosphere was just really great. The relief was all around to be seen, the sense of vindication, the sense that something to which we give so much in the way of effort, time and emotional energy has given something tangible back. Most of the people in Inver had this completely foisted upon them, and they’ve been fighting it for 10 years or more, and this really means something.

There’s no fear that people won’t keep their feet on the ground, or that they’ll lessen off in their efforts (there was plenty of anger that An Bord Pleanala didn’t just turn the whole thing down, even with their hands tied by the Strategic Infrastructure Act), but along with the resilience that has kept people going so long comes a realistic view of the situation.

Now we’ve got something to build on, so let’s go do it.