A SHIP that will lay the underwater pipeline for Shell EP Ireland’s controversial Corrib gas project in Co Mayo is due to recommence work there within a month.
Gardaí are planning a major security operation to ensure the ship’s work is not interrupted by protesters. Security sources have told The Irish Times that while the policing plans are still being formulated, the Garda is expected to seek assistance from the Naval Service in protecting the Solitaire pipe-laying vessel.
The Navy’s ships are expected to patrol Broadhaven Bay, near Belmullet, in an attempt to deter protesters from paddling up the Solitaire and disrupting its work, as they did last year.
The Solitaire was damaged last September as work began laying the pipeline from the Corrib gas fields to the landfall site at Glengad beach near Belmullet. A 100m section of the Solitaire’s pipe-laying apparatus, known as “the stinger”, became detached in high winds and heavy swell.
The work was abandoned for the winter in mid-September but not before protesters in kayaks repeatedly clashed with gardaí patrolling the bay in small vessels. Naval vessels were also drafted in to patrol the area.
Tensions between locals and the Garda and Shell’s private security staff were heightened when one local protester, Maura Harrington, went on hunger strike. The 55-year-old retired school teacher called off her action when the Solitaire was forced to leave Irish waters for repairs.
The 300-metre Solitaire, the largest pipe-laying vessel in the world, is due back in Co Mayo as early as the second week in June. However, that arrival date is provisional because the vessel will only be able to lay the underwater pipeline if weather conditions permit.
The vessel’s arrival is likely to result in further protests in the area. Gardaí believe that, like last year, the ship’s presence will attract protesters from the UK and mainland Europe.
Recent protests at the Glengad landfall site have become increasingly robust. Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy visited Belmullet Garda station last week to address gardaí there. Sources said he told those present that while people opposed to the project had a right to protest, local gardaí had his support and the support of the public in keeping those protests within the law. Mr Murphy was in Mayo to attend the funeral of Garda Terry Devers, who was killed in a road collision while travelling to work in Belmullet last Sunday morning. Local teenager Stephen Conway, who was driving the other vehicle, was also killed.
Three weeks ago trouble flared almost immediately Shell began works at the landfall site in Glengad after the winter break.
Gardaí said on April 22nd about 15 masked men carrying chains and iron bars gained access to the construction site. One of the men started a digger and used it to damage the site’s perimeter fence.
One security worker sustained an arm injury before he and has colleagues fled the site.
A number of hours later protester Willie Corduff was hospitalised after he was removed from the site, where he had climbed under the wheels of a lorry to prevent it from being used.
Mr Corduff said he had been held down and beaten by a group of men after he emerged from under the lorry to stretch his legs.
Last weekend seven protesters were arrested and charged after attempts were made to pull down fencing. Protesters believe the State has negotiated a poor deal that will benefit Shell with little benefit for the public coffers.