Corrib protesters urged to 'step back'


FORMER UNITED Nations assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has said that the continuing situation at the Corrib gas project in north Mayo “raised doubts about the ability and commitment of the Government” to “find a solution that best serves the interests of the people”.

Mr Halliday issued his statement as gardaí in Mayo appealed yesterday to protesters to “step back”, and Rossport farmer Willie Corduff was treated in hospital for injuries inflicted at Glengad, site of the Corrib pipeline landfall, early yesterday.

Mr Corduff’s brother-in-law and a Shell security guard were also reportedly injured in separate incidents which occurred at Glengad during Wednesday night and early yesterday.

Supt Michael Larkin of Belmullet, Co Mayo, said yesterday that he was appealing to local people to “take a step back” and use the Government’s north-west forum, chaired by former Department of Justice secretary general Joe Brosnan, for any complaints.

He said the force was investigating an incident which he described as “thuggery” at the Shell compound at Glengad, Belmullet, at approximately 11.30pm on Wednesday.

Supt Larkin said that up to 15 men “wearing balaclavas and armed with iron bars and chains and other assorted weaponry” entered the compound and “threatened and intimidated” security staff. One security guard was injured on the arm and received medical attention, he said.

Supt Larkin said the “intruders” had started a digger to cause damage. He did not confirm if gardaí were present but said no arrests were made as “circumstances didn’t permit”. The site was sealed off yesterday morning for criminal investigation.

Asked on Midwest Radio to comment on alleged injuries inflicted early yesterday on Willie Corduff, member of the Rossport Five who had staged a protest under a truck from early on Wednesday, Supt Larkin said he would not comment on specifics.

He said a “well-known protester” had been escorted from the site early yesterday and was transferred to hospital as he was complaining of feeling “unwell”.

A Garda Press Office statement said that “a protester who was present on the site since yesterday (Wednesday) was this morning (Thursday) removed from the compound by security staff” and “was taken to hospital by ambulance as a precaution”.

However, Supt Larkin’s statement has been challenged by Shell to Sea and by Pobal Chill Chomáin spokesman John Monaghan. Mr Monaghan said the sequence of events was that, at about 11.30pm on Wednesday, a “handful” of local people were gathered outside the Glengad compound gate and had “unravelled” some fencing. None of these people was “armed”, he said. One man, Peter Lavelle, was inside and close to his brother-in-law, Mr Corduff.

Mr Monaghan said that at about 3am yesterday a number of unidentified men in balaclavas arrived at the Glengad gate and entered the site.

Mr Corduff, who was still under the truck, said he heard “noise” but did not know where it was coming from.

At about 3.40am, Mr Corduff emerged from the truck to stretch his legs and was set upon by up to 11 men in balaclavas, beaten and held to the ground. A paramedic offered assistance and an ambulance was called.

“Allegations that protesters entered Glengad site carrying iron bars and chains, or that any security personnel was harmed, are absolutely untrue,” Shell to Sea Mayo spokesman Terence Conway said. Community groups Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile, which had participated in the recent Government mediation with Mr Corduff as a member of the delegation, called for a full investigation.

Mr Corduff was detained for tests at Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar. Shell EP Ireland was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Residents, including Mr Corduff, had questioned the legality of the resumed work, as An Bord Pleanála is still assessing an application under the Strategic Infrastructure Act (SIA) for the modified onshore pipeline. Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said he understood from Mayo County Council that the ancillary works were “exempted development”.

In Tullamore yesterday, Mr Ryan said he was “very concerned” about the reports from Belmullet and while “there is always a place for protest”. . . “we have to stick to the rule of law”. Mr Ryan said he would be returning to Belmullet next week, committed to “giving further time” to people “in favour of” and “opposing” the project.