By Pat Cannon

I was present in Castlebar court house for most of the ten-days of the trial of Gerry Bourke and Liam Heffernan who are Shell To Sea supporters and activists. I witnessed at firsthand how tax-payers’ money can be wasted at will by the agents of the state i.e. Gárdaí (the Irish police), State solicitors, the Dept. Of Public Prosecution, the Judge, court officials, State barristers and other hangers-on.

Numbers involved:

( 1 ) Judge 
( 1 ) courtroom user 
( 2 ) Stenographers 
( 1 ) Prison officer; 
( 1 ) Gárda on video evidence 
( 2 ) State Solicitors 
( 1 ) Senior Counsel for the State
 ( 1 ) Junior Counsel for the State; ( 2 ) Solicitors for the Defence ( 2 ) Senior Counsel for the Defense 
( 2 ) Junior Counsel for the Defence; 
( 12 ) Jurors ( 12 ) witnesses at least. Also the secretarial staff of all parties, including the DPP Office staff working on the case, also the cleaners and the other Court staff.

First of all if the State and the oil companies had initially negotiated with the locals, probably there would have been no need for these quiet citizens to have to rise up in protest against this project.
A much safer and easier route for the pipe line would have been found as the locals have an extensive knowledge of this area. 
If the state (and its Government) had negotiated a reasonable deal with oil companies then there would be much less protestors.
If proper health and safety regulations backed up by staff and equipment were in place from the start, people would feel much safer and secure in their homes. BUT NO! THE SHARKS DON’T NEGOTIATE — there is no room for compromise in a shark’s make-up.


Right from the start, the Government, the oil companies, the Environmental Protection Agency, County Council, media, Judiciary, Gárdaí and every other arm of the State treated the local people with disregard, contempt and as a complete irrelevance. As far as all the above-mentioned were concerned there was big money to be had and no small fry was going to get in the way. THERE WAS BLOOD IN THE WATER AND THE SHARKS WERE IN FOR THE KILL.

Thankfully there were 2,500 years of tradition and history still alive and well in this area, there was a quiet shy population but of people with a strong backbone that were well hardened into hardship, neglect and resistance to outside dictatorship and who were not going to be bullied or pushed about by anybody.

The rural area chosen by Shell for the pipe-laying (planned to run between both houses in the photo)
The rural area chosen by Shell for the pipe-laying (planned to run between shed on the left of photo and  house on the right)

It was this stern backbone that caused a middle-aged primary school Principal teacher and her two daughters, backed up by less than a half-dozen other locals to take a stand and start protesting against the potential desecration of this EU Environmentally Protected Area and their local pristine environment. Of course they were ignored, the media never mentioned them; the oil company’s employees and officials looked the other way and probably had a good laugh as they passed, the Council and all the other arms of the State treated them as non-entities. As far as all these groups were concerned the local people were of no significance.

However, the time came when these officials had to get into closer proximity with the local people; they had to enter the local people’s land and they thought they could do this without permission, by bullying and using threats but soon discovered how mistaken they were. They learned that they were not just dealing with a few individuals or a few head cases but instead that there was a whole community in this locality and that this community was close-knit and resolute in their opposition to outside intimidation and coercion.

With little or no advance warning the oil companies’ employees entered the farmland of six local farmers without the owners’ consent and proceeded to dig trial holes, knock down boundary fences and block access to and from the land in question. Naturally enough the farmers contacted their legal advocates and very quickly they were in court for the first time in their lives.

Of course the Courts and Judiciary are also an arm of the State and are also commercial enterprises just like the oil companyies and they ruled in favour of the foreign multi-national companies. After all small local marshland farmers can’t afford to give big financial enticements to Court judges, politicians and Government officials but on the other hand the oil company will be very generous as has transpired since.


The six farmers, five men and one woman were found in “contempt of court” and the five men were jailed until they “purged their contempt”. This lead to an outcry all over the country and hundreds of thousands of people came to the assistance of what became known as “the Rossport Five”. Ninety-four days later the Courts had to capitulate and release all of the five innocent men.

However the scene was set for what would become a marathon David and Goliath battle between a small close-knit indigenous rural Irish community and three foreign multinational oil companies, one of which had a larger turnover than that of the whole Irish State even though the latter was experiencing an unprecedented economic boom.

Gardai defending Shell confront protesters
Gardai defending Shell confront protesters

Thirteen years after the middle-aged school teacher and a handful of supporters stood outside the local council offices in protest the struggle is still going on and the oil companies and Irish Government are still trying to bully their way through the Irish people.

However, the Government’s economic boom has disappeared and the people now realize that if they still had their oil and gas that was fraudulently misappropriated by the Irish Government and the oil companies, we would have NO EVICTIONS, NO CENTENARIANS ON HOSPITAL TROLLIES, NO EMIGRATION, NO UNEMPLOYMENT AND NO STEALTH TAXES.


So in these last two weeks I witnessed the State trying to criminalise two more supporters of the struggle; we saw video evidence showing that the men had to use considerable force to gain entry to Shell’s site and when confronted by Shell’s private army (security force) the protestors had to stand firm and use a variety of tactics to get past them. We heard State witness after State witness tell lie after lie or refuse to answer or evade answering questions when they were put in the witness box, then the Defence were not allowed show their video evidence and some of their witness were not allowed on the stand.

Shell security team manhandle a protester
Shell security team manhandle a protester. 

Shell Hell logo to Sea

I heard how Shell’s private army drive around the villages at night in two jeeps with blacked-out windows and shine their lights through the windows of activists’ homes, whilst if anybody comes out of the houses then four men wearing balaclavas step out of each jeep in an act of intimidation. We heard how the Gárdaí constantly drive past the people’s homes very slowly and then turn around a mile or two up the road just to drive past again five minutes later and hjow each time they pass, they stare into activists’ homes.

I heard how the Gárdaí punched, pushed, kicked and beat with steel batons men, women and children, how many activists spent long terms in prison on trumped-up charges while Shell plied the Gárdaí with over €35,000 worth of alcohol. I also heard how a Gárda made derogatory remarks of a sexual nature about a protestor’s wife to the protestor and how five Gárda were unwittingly recorded on a female prisoner’s video camera planning how they would interrogate her when they got her to the Garda station by threatening to rape her and laughing at the different ways they would word the threat. ALL of them got away with ALL these misconduct events.

Gardai caught on camera in action at Rossport
Gardai caught on camera in action at Rossport

I heard how while car tyre contains on average 2 bars of air pressure per square inch, that this gas pipe had 345 bars of highly inflammable gas pressure per square inch, that the seas and sea bed are highly vulnerable to currents (the second most volatile currents in the World).

I also heard the accused man’s wife state how for 13 years while she was rearing her family she could think of nothing from once she got up in the morning till she fell asleep at night but this dangerous gas pipe line that would be practically going by their front door and over which she had to take her children to school every day.  

In a statement to the Court, one of the Rossport 5 gave evidence that Michael D. Higgins (now Uachtarán of the Irish state) had been on the protest and had addressed the other protesters, also participated had the father of the State Solicitor prosecuting this case.  He also said that Enda Kenny had visited the Five in prison and had told them that life was “very cheap in Ireland now” and that “you can get a man in Dublin to do a ‘hit’ on someone for €500.” 

Protesters against Shell in Dublin
Protesters against Shell in Dublin

 In his summingup the Defence counsel stated that the State agencies had rubbished themselves in the eyes of the world in their dealing with the situation, that the terms that our oil was given away were the second best in the world for the oil companies, that they stated that there were no emergency plan in place if an accident or act of terror did happen and that the protestors had rendered a magnificent service to their fellow citizens at much expense and hardship to themselves by standing up for what is right and correct.

Protest at Shell HQ in Leeson St, Dublin in solidarity with Ogoni people in Nigeria and people at Rossport.  The Nigerian Government, to protect Shell's profits although the company was causing great environmental damage, hanged the nine leaders of the  peaceful environmental movement
Protest at Shell HQ in Leeson St, Dublin in solidarity with Ogoni people in Nigeria and people at Rossport. The Nigerian Government, to protect Shell’s profits although the company was causing great environmental damage, hanged the nine leaders of the peaceful environmental movement

The Jury of eight women and four men was out for just about one hour when they returned with a unanimous verdict of “NOT GUILTY of violent disorder” on both Liam Heffernan and Gerry Bourke. A further malicious charge of “criminal damage” was dropped by the State because despite there having been 28 cameras on site and up to 30 security men and later a number of Gárdaí, there was no evidence to support the charge.

Just more waste of tax-payers’ money. I have reckoned the tab that the tax-payer will pick up will be in the region of €150,000 and Shell won’t be paying a penny of it.

End item.

Interview with both accused outside the court:

Hotpress interview with Director of the film The Pipe about the struggle and the issues 

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