Shell-to-Sea 'Chief' denies garda slur in defamation case
A LEADING campaigner against the Corrib Gas project in north Mayo yesterday denied accusing a garda sergeant of being a thief and a smuggler.
Pat O'Donnell (54), of Porturlin, Ballina -- known locally as 'The Chief' -- was defending an action for defamation taken against him by James Gill (52), of Crossmolina, a former station sergeant at Bangor Erris, Co Mayo.
Mr Gill, who retired from the force last month, told Mayo Circuit Court that on November 3, 2006, he was in charge of a group of about 15 gardai among a total force of 150 gardai policing a Shell-to-Sea protest in Bellanaboy. There were about 100 protesters present at the event, which began at about 7.30am.
The protesters were being marshalled by the gardai on the walk from Bellanaboy crossroads to the Corrib Gas terminal, under construction about a mile away. The protest had been timed to coincide with construction workers and vehicles arriving for work at the terminal site, Mr Gill said.
He found himself at the top of the protest and standing beside Mr O'Donnell.
Mr O'Donnell, who was a fisherman and a member of the Shell-to-Sea campaign, came up to him and whispered in his ear "you're a f***ing sissy", he told the court.
Mr Gill said he didn't answer, but Mr O'Donnell came back and repeated the comment.
Again he didn't respond, but later Mr O'Donnell shouted at him, "you stole diesel and you smuggled tyres across the Border".
Mr Gill told the court: "The protesters and the gardai could hear this. He directed his comments at me.
"I stopped and he repeated it and I said to Garda John Sweeney, who was beside me, 'did you hear that' and he said he did."
Similar remarks were subsequently made by other protesters, including, "you break the law one day and you're down here the next day keeping the law", he said.
Mr O'Donnell pointed out that he had said that it was easier to steal diesel than buy it, as diesel had previously been stolen from him.
Mr Gill had looked at him and asked if he had been referring to him. "I said I'm not talking at all to you, Mr Gill," he told the court.
He insisted he had never mentioned Mr Gill's name when making the remark about his diesel being stolen and the words "tyres" or "across the Border", had never been mentioned.
"Whatever I said was misunderstood by Mr Gill", he said.
Judge Margaret Heneghan will deliver her judgment in the action tomorrow.