Tuesday 19 March 2019

Big oil, small village... The protester

DEBATE: Maura Harrington. Photograph : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
DEBATE: Maura Harrington. Photograph : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Sarah McCabe

Maura Harrington is a retired primary school principal and spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign. She lives about 25km from the Corrib gas terminal and has protested against the project since its very early days.

"What they did was place a major industrial site on a greenfield area. In the 21st century, dirty industry is not innovative.

"Jobs at any cost is not a good enough reason to place a major industrial site in a beauty spot. Where do we draw the line? About 40 years ago someone tried to get a nuclear power plant built here, citing emigration. And it hasn't even been the answer to unemployment.

"Erris remains bedevilled by emigration - Shell is not the great white hope. The gas terminal has caused real division in this area. Its legacy will far outweigh any short-term jobs.

"What about jobs for people in the area who are opposed to Shell? Why should they be left behind? One of my children is unemployed, he wouldn't take a job with Shell and has no choice but to emigrate.

"Shell To Sea has been accused of protest tourism, bringing people in from other parts of the country and even overseas to protest.

"But why shouldn't we? Where do you think Shell is from? They' re hardly locals.

"It feels like if you don't live on top of the pipeline, you are not allowed object.

"I am against it because I have a deep love of place. Intangibles like clean air, clean water, sight of the night sky and the sound of silence don't feature on any balance sheet, but they are so valuable. Through sheer neglect, this area had managed to escape the worst excesses of industrialisation - then along came Shell.

"There are other things Belmullet should capitalise on. We have organic farming, sustainable fishing and huge potential for tourism. But you are not going to get tourists coming to see the Shell plant.

"We think of it as a total giveaway of valuable natural assets. The argument that Ireland will get 25pc of the profits is a fallacy - does Apple pay 12.5pc corporation tax on its profits? Hmm?

"I do feel that Shell to Sea has been successful, in all sorts of ways. We have informed the fracking debate and the right to water debate because we have shown what a small, determined group of people can achieve.

"I don't agree that protester numbers have dropped off. It simply was not worth protesting Enda Kenny's visit - he wasn't worth it to us. Just because we were not standing in the cold today does not mean we are gone.

"Shell to Sea is not against mining. But we are in favour of using natural resources to the best benefit of Irish people. We want real debate on the ownership, control and management of fossil fuels.

"The relationship between Shell and government really concerns us. Enda Kenny paid a private visit to the terminal last year and refused to answer [a] parliamentary question about it because it was done in a private capacity - yet Shell was free to use pictures of the visit in their corporate material."

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