A DISTRICT Court judge vacated the bench twice yesterday amid unruly courtroom scenes which broke out as she dealt with cases involving activists who want the €180 million Corrib gas terminal located offshore.
The trouble erupted at Belmullet court after Judge Mary Devins refused to disqualify herself from hearing cases against a number of prominent Shell to Sea campaigners who are opposed to the mainland terminal in Bellanaboy.
There was uproar on a number of occasions during the proceedings with protesters applauding loudly and slapping furniture after the impartiality of the judge had been called into question.
One activist, Niall Harnett, on the instructions of the judge, was removed from the court but was not arrested.
Earlier, Mr Harnett, with an address at Barr na Coille, Pollathomas, Ballina, who faces public order and criminal damage charges, asked the judge to disqualify herself from his case.
Mr Harnett questioned the judge’s impartiality claiming she had demonstrated ill-will towards him and “shown favour to my opponents”.
Mr Harnett went on to allege that the judge was “compromised by the fact that you are the wife of a Government Minister in a Government whose policy and stance on the Shell Corrib Gas project is one that I am actively involved in opposing as a Shell to Sea campaigner”. The judge is married to Minister of State for Science Jimmy Devins.
The judge strongly rejected the allegations of non-impartiality made by Mr Harnett and two other prominent Shell to Sea campaigners, Eoin Ó Leidhín and Pat O’Donnell, who face public order charges, and fixed a trial date for next month.
She said her impartiality in Shell to Sea cases was obvious to any interested observer and went on to describe Mr Harnett’s accusations as “scurrilous”. The judge said the allegations were “vicious”, “personal”, “unprecedented” and “unwarranted”.
The judge also refused an application by solicitor Alan Gannon that she disqualify herself from hearing a case against Maura Harrington who is charged with assaulting a security guard at the proposed Glengad gas landfall point and trespassing on Shell property. A decision in the Harrington case is to be made by the judge on May 13th.