THE Garda security operation at the Shell refinery site in north Mayo has cost the State €8.1 million to date, according to new figures.
The taxpayers’ bill amounts to about €666,000 a month since gardaí began monitoring the site and escorting Shell workers last October.
Last night, opposition TDs and campaigners branded the costs as “ridiculous” and “disgraceful”.
The security costs, which include salaries over the past 12 months, were provided to Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin following a parliamentary question to the Department of Justice.
Defending the costs, Justice Minister Brian Lenihan said the allocation of resources to the policing plan in Bellanaboy was closely monitored and kept under constant review by local senior Garda management. The release of the figures came as Shell to Sea supporters held an all-night vigil last week to mark a year since deployment of extra gardaí to the area.
Up to 200 gardaí have been charged with escorting Shell staff and contractors into the Corrib gas terminal since work resumed last year.
Last night, Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris branded the figures as “disgraceful”.
He said: “It seems the Government is content to effectively fund a multinational to the tune of €8.1m. It’s a disgraceful sum when you look at the extent of problems in the health service and the cuts introduced by the HSE.
“The local community had no alternative but to protest. It’s their democratic right to hold peaceful and dignified protests.”
Shell to Sea spokesman John Monaghan described the expenditure as an “entire waste of taxpayers’ money”.
“We have always maintained that this is a private dispute between locals and Shell. In the 15 months prior to the gardaí arriving on site, there were no incidents or upsets,” he said.
Protestors have been picketing the site every working day since July 2005 as part of their campaign to have the pipeline rerouted offshore.
Next week, the protest group hope to meet with the new Minister for Communications, Natural and Energy Resources Eamon Ryan. In September, consultants for Shell published a shortlist of three “corridors” for a modified Corrib gas onshore pipeline route.
A route is expected to be chosen by the end of this year and submitted to An Bord Pleanála for approval under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.