'Stop acting like a private army'
Judge says Shell to Sea vigilantism is unacceptable
Published 12/02/2010 | 05:00
A key figure in the Corrib Gas dispute and her supporters were involved in vigilante activity and have been acting like "secret police", a judge said yesterday.
Vigilantism and camera reconnaissance by "private armies" in the Corrib Gas dispute will not be tolerated, Judge Raymond Groarke insisted at a sitting of the Circuit Criminal Court in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
After hearing evidence in a number of cases involving two prominent Shell to Sea activists, Maura Harrington (56) and Terence Conway (50), the judge claimed that Ms Harrington had been involved in vigilante-type activity enforcing the law she believed in.
In the case against Mr Conway, the judge referred to the fact that the accused had been filming at the Shell compound in Glengad, Pollathomas, where gas from the Corrib Field is to come ashore. "There are no circumstances in which reconnaissance by private armies will be tolerated," the judge stated.
Both Ms Harrington, from Doohoma, Erris, who described herself in court yesterday as "a specialist" due to her 10-year campaign of opposition to the onshore Corrib Gas terminal, and Mr Conway, who lives at Inver, Belmullet, had lodged appeals against convictions arising from protests against the gas project since 2008.
Ms Harrington, a retired primary school principal, told the court her motivation for her campaign came from a strong sense of attachment to place.
She went on to describe herself as a citizen who unfortunately felt abandoned by the State ever since a large police presence appeared in Erris in 2006 as a result of the Corrib Gas campaign.
The judge said he recognised the right of communities to protest where they perceived unfairness, wrongdoing or inequality was being caused to them.
But no citizen of the State was entitled to self-appoint themselves as enforcers of the law, je added.
The judge disqualified Ms Harrington from driving for two years and fined her €200 for an incident at Glengad when she blocked the entrance to the Shell compound with her car.
He adjourned for a year sentencing on other cases relating to trespass and causing criminal damage to a net at Glengad.
Mr Conway successfully appealed a conviction for leaving the scene of an incident at the Shell compound in Glengad. Two security personnel on the Shell site were injured when Mr Conway allegedly drove his car into the compound on September 27, 2008.
It was alleged Mr Conway backed his car into the gates causing €100 of damage and injuring personnel. Allowing the appeal, the judge said he felt if Mr Conway had known there was an injury he would have "scarpered like a shot".
However, in a second appeal hearing, Mr Conway was fined €500 for a breach of public order at the Shell administration offices in Belmullet in September 2008.