Perspectives on the Shell to Sea campaign from a WSM member active in the Mayo campaign


The Cork branch of the Workers’ Solidarity Movement Thuesday 28 Feb held a public meeting in the Quality Hotel, Shandon, Cork, which was attended by about twenty people. There was a high number of familiar faces from the Shell to Sea campaign, and a couple of new (well, not-quite-so-new) faces, all of whom came to hear comrade Fin Dwyer give a loosely-structured talk covering his observations as an anarchist active in the Mayo end of the campaign.Fin started with what had attracted him to the campaign in the first case – that what people in Erris faced was the state and multinational capital working side-by-side – it was a real-life example of what anarchists have always said about the state’s role as the ruling classes’ enforcement and facilitation arm. He talked about the work of anarchist activists in the campaign to date, and the relative influence of libertarian ideas in the way Shell to Sea organises and acts in the Erris area. He also gave an analysis of the relative effectiveness of direct action tactics so far, compared to the route of pleading before courts and public representatives. In his presentation, he also covered how local people up there have been abandoned by the political parties and other established institutions, such as the Catholic church, at both local and national levels.

Other emphases of Fin’s talk was the high level of local solidarity in the campaign, as evidenced by the almost-total absence of workers from the Erris area from the refinery site, and the class divisions that have become evident by the participation of local business people as subcontractors to the project and as advocates for the Corrib Gas project, when almost everybody else supports the Shell to Sea campaign. He also noted that the tactic of direct action in the Shell to Sea campaign in Mayo was present almost from the beginning, when local campaigners occupied JCB buckets to halt destruction of a valuable local wild bird habitat. While acknowledging that the Rossport Solidarity Camp was not entirely an anarchist project, he said that the camp played a vital role in helping the campaign develop its Ireland-wide and international dimensions, and he praised its continuing work for the campaign, and its continuing efforts to make the Shell to Sea campaign as democratic as possible.

Fin described the experience of what the locals up there have endured so far as having destroyed any remaining belief he may have had of the Irish state having any sense of restraint or moderation when it comes to the imposition of its will on an unwilling community. He also gave his recollections on how the community has reacted to the violence used against them since the cops showed up in numbers last September, and how the campaign has evolved under state oppression. He drew hope from the local campaign’s endurance under such pressure.

Following his talk, Fin fielded questions from the audience. Given that most of those who attended are already active in the Shell to Sea campaign, there was agreement that the tactic of direct action held most hope for the campaign in Mayo. Many questions concerned the upcoming Day of Action/Support at Bellanaboy on next Friday, February 16th. Fin encouraged all present to either be there for the day, or to work to mobilise as large a number as possible to go up there for the day. He offered a forecast that the coming months, when Shell intend to begin peat removal from the refinery site, would be a crucial time for the campaign’s chances for success overall, and that effective action on the ground up there would make the State and Shell take seriously the local opposition’s determination not to be silenced by state oppression. A successful Day of Action would give the campaign new energy and boost morale considerably in Erris, he added.

The questions helped other points and experiences to be raised. A perspective on the Nigerian experience was added, with the warning that the best time for the campaign to win is now, before the refinery gets built and starts operating, because campaigning while the local community’s health and environment is being destroyed is trying to stop a tragedy in motion, compared to stopping that tragedy happening by effective action soon. It underlined the importance Fin gave to the current phase of the campaign, and reminded us all of what is at stake for the communities involved.

The role of trades unions in the dispute was brought up in questions, where Fin illustrated the compromised attitude of the mainstream union movement with Siptu refusing to support Shell to Sea because it has members working on the refinery site.

A comment from one of the attendees called for more propaganda about the economic benefits to Irish society lost by the current oil & gas licensing regime, aimed at a working class readership.

At the end of the meeting, Fin again encouraged people to get involved in the Shell to Sea campaign, and said that this campaign still has a good chance of winning. He also drew attention to the lessons that can be learnt in this campaign which will be of use for future community-based campaigns. He summed up with the prediction that future times would see the importance of the Shell to Sea campaign and the outcome of the Corrib Gas dispute, and that our efforts now are vital if we wish the campaign to succeed.