Sunday Independent's hatchet job on Shell to Sea

Date:

At this stage its unsurprising in the least to read Royal Dutch Shell propoganda being presented as "journalism" by the Irish Independent and its stable mate, the Sunday Indo. Most readers of this site will be only too aware that the paper's owner 'Sir' Tony O Reilly has a very practical and profitable interest in the vast amounts of oil and gas of the West coast of Ireland.

However even by the hack standards of journalism, and right wing opinions, that grace the paper, yesterdays piece by Maeve Sheehan suggest not just the usual biased and unnuaced 'presentation of facts' but has an almost willful ignorance of the facts on the ground. Combined with a willingness to present Shell and Police PR without any simple background checks or colloratory evidence over such an 'extensive' (read: its got a big word count) this article would be most useful for any who sought a practical example of what Noam Chomsky describes as the 'manufacturing of consent'Perhaps more simple put Sheehan’s piece is a singular and clumsy attempt at a hatchet job, both as a personal attack on Maura Harrington and on the growing Shell to Sea campaign. The story is laced with factual inaccuracies, cynical innuendo and is strikingly void of any voices from the local community that have consistently been harassed and beaten by both private security forces and the police themselves.

Whilst is might give more oxygen to Sheehan’s butt lazy style of critical journalism, I thought it might be useful to go through the piece paragraph by paragraph to tease out its underlying bais and its peppering of illusion and misreprentation. I’ll post a link to the full article below

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“MAURA Harrington should have been enjoying her first week of retirement from her job teaching children at Inver National School in Mayo last week. Instead, she was on hunger strike. Hardly normal behaviour for a pillar of the community in the rural north Mayo village. But locals are used to such extreme behaviour from the 55-year-old gaelgeoir who, as spokeswoman for the Shell to Sea campaign, has led the protests against Shell EP Ireland's plans to bring gas onshore.”

1 So just what is normal about the situation of navy battle ships, a corporation whose total ‘economy’ is bigger than that of Ireland, a deal signed off by a finance minister without a bank account(Ahern) and Ray Burke, and 11 million euros spent on police overtime in the area.

2 Just how are ‘locals used to such extreme behaviour” – no qualifying just printed.

3 Without speaking for Ms Harrington, I’m sure she would agree that she has not ‘lead the protests’ at all, but has played a significant role within the campaign as have many others. However is ‘normal’ for those doing media to be labeled the leader. What this does is disguise the fact that this is a popular and open campaign without leaders

She comtinues

“When a ship arrived last month to begin laying pipes that would bring gas from the Corrib field onshore at Mayo, protesters took to their kayaks and Maura Harrington declared she would starve herself to death if it didn't leave.

Embedded in her car parked at the gates of Shell's compound at Glengad for 11 days, she claimed that not a morsel of food had passed her lips. Her only concession was water mixed with salt. By day, she made occasional visits to use a neighbour's washing facilities, when necessary. By night, she wrapped up in her car. "I have a delightful, gorgeous woolly blanket that was given to me by a neighbour of mine who makes gorgeous soft woolens. Her label is Fastnet, so you could give her a plug," she said last week. "I sleep quite contentedly."

Her hunger strike ended at 3pm on Friday after the Solitaire was dispatched from Irish waters. It didn't seem to matter that retreat of the Solitaire had to nothing to do with Maura's fast. The ship was damaged during pipe laying, had been resting in Donegal, and on Thursday was sent for repairs to Scotland. That didn't stop Maura and Shell to Sea from claiming the intervention of "Divine Grace".

1 There is no indication whatsoever that the Solitiare was ‘damaged during pipe laying”. In fact it clear that this is a cobbled together ‘fact’. Much rumour and speculation surrounds just how the Solitiare got damaged. For days there was nothing from the ships owners Allseas Ltd or Shell about just how did a ship, the one of a kind in the world costing over 1 million a day to hire, and having had weeks to prepare suddenly ‘get damaged’. Contrary to the spin put out by Shell, the seas where very calm on the day of the breakage. More significantly, it is only AFTER an announcement by Shell, fulfilling the demands of Ms Harrington requiring Shell to make explicit the intentions of the Solitiare as it idled of the Donegal coast, that first mention of pipe laying causing this damage surfaced. As yet, and contrary to Shells own statements, no pipes have been layed, or subsequently retrieved from the sea bed.

2 Its entirely speculation about the exact whys and hows of the Solitiares retreat. One could equally argue this was a deliberate sabotage by the corporations involved, the most easiest and face saving way out of a PR disaster. The crew and master of the Solitiare had been given plenty of notice from sea based activists that any attempts to lay pipes would be effectively blocked. And anyone with any ideas of water based policing could see that the Gardia have neither the training, skills or desire to police such actions safely or confidently. The farcical and embarrassing use of Irish Navy gunboats against civilian protesters clearly illustrated the collective effectiveness of the protests , but ultimately where compounding the PR disaster for Shell and the government. Given the ease of use of superlative’s like ‘extreme’ throughout the piece, its illustrating that no mention of the Irish navy’s involvement is to be found.

However more extreme stuff worth printing is

“Such extremes are par for the course in what has become one of the longest-running civil protests in recent history. Shell plans to pipe gas from the Corrib field, bring it onshore at Glengad beach and feed it through pipes that cross nine kilometres of land to a refinery, currently under construction in Bellanaboy.

The Government, corporate Ireland and Fine Gael support the plans. Ireland is fast running out of gas and imports more than 80 per cent of supplies from the UK. The community is divided. Some want the Shell development. Others -- protesters claim a majority -- don't. There are concerns over pollution of the water supply, health hazards, risk of landslides, destruction of natural habitat and the environment.”

1 ‘The Government, corporate Ireland and Fine Gael support the plans. Ireland is fast running out of gas and imports more than 80 per cent of supplies from the UK.” It reads as if these two statements, both factually correct, are in some way related. Essentially the first statement says the elites of the country favour the project. That is a statement that comes preloaded with underlying assumptions. The second, in its own right, shows the intellectual trapeze work amongst the elite, and one would assume the author. Ireland is NOT fast running out of gas. We have Loads of it of the coast of Ireland.

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Some More......

“Local protest galvanised around five farmers who refused to allow the pipeline to cross their land. When they were jailed in 2005 for flouting a court injunction to stop diggers on their property, they gained hero status. The campaign to Free the Rossport Five became the Shell to Sea campaign. Its stated aim at that time was to get Shell to process the gas offshore, with minimal disruption to the environment, and away from the local community.

What began as a legitimate local protest has become a magnet for international eco-warriors, rebels in search of a cause, and political groups in search of a platform. The initial demand that gas processing take place off shore has grown into an argument about who should control Ireland's natural resources. Shell to Sea branches have cropped up everywhere from Dublin to Belfast to Germany. The Rossport Solidarity Camp hosts visiting eco-warriors and agitators bussed or ferried in from abroad”

1 The unstated allusion here is that Shell to Sea has moved being a ‘legimate’ campaign to an ‘illegitate one. Recent history has shown that there is always a need within media to paint ‘good protestor’ versus ‘bad protestor’. There is however no evidence to suggest that those partaking in the campaign are ‘in search of a cause’. This is just dumb assed lazy hack speak. Even my granny knows that eco-warrior is so ten years ago!!! The idea that the Rossport five where anything but (good) agitators, acting in genuine response to the capitulation of self serving elites in government is a singular mistelling of history. Though I again am reluctant to use labels, the idea that only ‘locals’ (that vast and empty catch all used more as a device than an illuminating term but most journo’s covering this) have legitimate concerns is a misrepretation of facts. Why else do shell to sea groups exist nationally?

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Bring on the Bogeymen........

“A demonstration in November last year ended with one of the ugliest clashes yet between gardai and protesters. There were claims of republican infiltration of the cause. Two of those arrested were members of a fledgling group of revolutionary socialists and disaffected former Sinn Fein members now in a group called Eirigi. Founded in 2006, its aims include a 32-county Ireland, the nationalisation of natural resources and it supports the people's right to "armed struggle in the correct context" (although not in the present climate, points out its chairman, Brian Leeson).

They were Dominic McGlinchy, the son of the late and notorious INLA leader, and Robert Jackson, a former IRA prisoner who served 20 years on an explosives offence and was released under the Good Friday Agreement. They were each given the Probation Act for blocking a public thoroughfare at the sit-down protest.

Another Eirigi member, Brendan McKenna, a veteran of Catholic protests against Orange Order marches on the Garvaghy Road, was also there that day, advising protesters”.

“If Shell is to believed, there is also a rogue guerrilla element amongst the protesters. Last Sunday night, a soft drink bottle was filled with petrol, attached to a clock and a can of paint and left in a carrier bag outside Shell's headquarters on Leeson Street in Dublin. The device wasn't rigged. Had it exploded, it had the potential to kill or cause considerable damage. Shell linked the device to the Corrib protest, describing at as a "sinister development", to the anger of all the protest groups, who not only denied having anything to do with it but criticised the stunt. Nor have gardai found evidence of a link. They suspect it was the work of a maverick who planted the crude device as a sick prank or publicity stunt”

1 Now we get to the real Bogeymen and extremists. Guerillas in the mist. This is a repetition of a claim that Republican are somehow directing the protests against Shell. However the first sentence actually does represent a truth
“A demonstration in November last year ended with one of the ugliest clashes yet between gardai and protesters.”

What Sheenan forgets to expand is the massively excessive use of police violence, the numerous and very obvious injuries received by protestors. Lets not forget, the cops where given baton to beat the shit out of protestors. They have subsequently been up in court, and clearly have questions to answer about perjury (much of this has been covered on indymedia before elsewhere). However, as usual, the media focus get skewed on to the “scary others” be it the ‘anarchists’ or if you want a biggy who better that ‘dissident republicans’.

I’m not sure how Eirigi feel about the exposé, but sure all publicity is good publicity eh. More seriously though, the implication is clear. Voilent extremists have infiltrated the campaign and sure good help the lofty but simple locals, sure they don’t know whats going on.
So whilst linking arrested individuals with past alleged crimes we find out that down in Rossport they where arrested for, shock horror, sitting on the road. Luckily that day, as protestors avoided getting thrown into a ditch, or a whack around the ear by police battens, Brendan mc Kenna was on hand dispense ‘advice’. There are unconfirmed rumours that Mc Kenna was telling protestors to “fold you coat and put it under your bum to keep it dry and warm during the sit down” however Eirigi where unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

To clarify its pretty easy to see what role political parties or group play in directing Shell to Sea
From there website
“Shell to Sea is an international non violent campaign, rooted in the Erris community. We seek to ensure the proposed Corrib gas terminal and pipeline are constructed offshore, as is best practice. In doing so we seek to highlight the negligent environmental, health, safety, planning and economic consequences of this government backed plan. We are not the property of any party or movement and we disassociate ourselves from negative campaigning and tactics that many media outlets have attempted to associate us with. We have been campaigning for several years and continue to face intimidation, slander and significant hardship as a result.However, we are growing in strength, numbers and confidence. We will remain peaceful, committed and determined in the coming days, weeks months - and years if necessary!”

2 But back to the article…..

Not content with attempting to distort the role of individuals within Shell to Sea who are members of political groups ( whilst those on the other side seem almost exclusively members of political groups FF, FF, the Greens Labour, but whats another indo contradiction) Sheenan now repeats last Monday’s claims from the Head of Communication at Shell that supporters planted a bomb outside Shell’s Hq on Leeson Street.

Worthy of a full investigation itself but perhaps with a journalist style slighty more robust than found at either Indo's, the circumstances and spin around this device is murky to say the least. This story broke late Monday evening, yet made it into the first print run of the Irish Times for Tuesday morn. The piece was written by Ronan Mc Greevy, and his piece carries information later contradicted, but nor corrected.

From his piece
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0916/1....html
he writes

“The bomb, which was defused by the Army bomb disposal squad, was described by an Army spokesman as "viable, home-made, crude and highly-dangerous. It could have seriously injured or harmed somebody if somebody had handled it," the spokesman said”

No either this unnamed spokeperson was given some dodgy information by those who actually checked the device. However one is unsure how a “soft drink bottle was filled with petrol, attached to a clock and a can of paint and left in a carrier bag” as it later transpired to be, could be dealt with by a controlled explosion without making a lot of noise, or without making a pretty obvious mess with paint. No paint stains where to be found around Corrib house early on Tuesday morning. Shell aren’t the only ones to view this as a ‘sinister development’ and the question about who has the most to gain in the ‘discovery’ and planting of ‘bombs’ goes begging. Is it possible to imagine a attempt to discredit a campaign and deflect more and more public involvement by agents of the state or shell actually being involved in such activites.

A fourteen year old ‘journalist’ would see this as perhaps an obvious question to ask or at the very least a possibility to explore, but not for Sheehan, as perhaps the ‘contacts’ a journalist might have could dry up very quickly by asking the wrong questions. Given the boss is O Reilly, I’d imagine the pay checks would dry up very quickly too.

However possibly its is because such framing of the issue is actually “dangerous”. Heaven forbid that the most striking and obvious intuitions get followed up. But Sheehen chooses to be very specific with her intuitions. The guards think it was a ‘prankster’ now, well maybe, but what do you think Maeve? Don’t worry, take the money and don’t let your imagination or faith in your sources run.

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Now for a bit of divide and conquer, lets paint a picture of a community at war with itself, even if the quotes don’t fit the spin in between

“John Monaghan, a former Shell to Sea leading light who is married to a daughter of Michael O Seighin, one of the Rossport Five, is its spokesman. Unlike Shell to Sea, the group doesn't engage in acts of civil disobedience.

"Last November there was a lot of protest and unrest at Bellanaboy, violence from the gardai, pushing and shoving. That was taking away from the health and safety aspects of what we were about. A lot of people felt that that was going down a road that was probably unnecessary. We never set out as a community to be in confrontation with anyone, especially gardai," said Monaghan.

"Our primary goal as a community is to ensure the health and safety and integrity of the people of the parish and the environment we live in. The only difference between ourselves and Shell to Sea is that Shell to Sea is also

driving for natural resources. There are still a number of people in the area who are supportive of both groups. Some people would say that there is a split, friction, that kind of thing but not really because the two sides complement each other."

Maura Harrington, of Shell to Sea, suggested otherwise. When the Sunday Independent raised Pobal Cill Chomain's claim that the majority of the community backed moving the refinery to Glinsk, she declined to comment. "They claim to speak for the majority of people of the parish," she said. "But I would ask you to discuss that with Pobal Cill Chomain. I I have no comment to make on the matter."

Asked if she would support the move to Glinsk, she declined to engage in "speculation", as Shell has already ruled that proposal out.

John Monaghan makes it very clear that he see’s no conflict and both groups compliment and support each other. But attempting to sow divisions, Sheehan attempts to misrepresent the ‘no comment’ of a woman on hungerstrike as some how a division. Lets be very clear who it would suit for this division to appear. Its clear that there a is a certain amount of fluidity between both groups and are mutually supportive of each other actions. Sheehan tells the story he boss would like to hear, and would like other to believe, regardless of the facts on the ground, and regardless of the printed quotes she uses.

Sheenan articles now decends into farce and statire ,and is one of the few pieces I’ read that reads like a sketch from “Todays the Day” or “Brasseye”

“While the protest lobby groups might play down divisions, there is little doubt that the Corrib gas pipeline has had an ugly impact on the entire community. There have been allegations of intimidation of Shell workers. Paddy Cosgrove, a former Fianna Fail councillor who complained of intimidation to gardai, claimed that local people were afraid to speak out.

Gardai have been accused of heavy-handedness, claims denied by Superintendent John Gilligan. "The policing of this dispute is not easy but as much as possible people involved in the protest are given the opportunity to carry out a peaceful and lawful protest," he said. "In general with regard to certain criticisms, I would say we carry out our duties taking into account the rights of all concerned. I am very proud of the dedication and efforts of members of An Garda Siochana who work with me in policing this dispute."

Gardai have also received a battering. Last Sunday, at a solidarity rally for Maura Harrington's hunger strike organised by Shell to Sea, about 88 set off in convoy along the roads of Erris. Tempers flared when four gardai sitting in their unmarked car were spotted videoing the convoy. Two cars pulled in front and behind the garda car, effectively hemming it in. Protesters surrounded it. The car was jostled from side to side and allegedly, attempts were made to open the doors. Six local people were arrested last week.

Now that Shell has postponed its pipe-laying and Maura Harrington has called off her hunger strike, Michael D Higgins, the President of the Labour Party, called on the Government to use that window to bring "peace to Mayo". It is a sentiment shared by local Belmullet priest and columnist, Fr Kevin Hegarty. "My general impression is that most people in the community accept that the project is going to go ahead. Some accept it enthusiastically. Some people who are neutral sense that it's going to happen anyway. Then you have people from the community who are working on the construction of it or providing services, and who are quite happy about the whole matter."

1 So whilst making reference to divisions she herself has manufactured for the reader, she makes a really banal statement about the impact it has on the community. Not as you’d expect about the disruption through police intimidation, continual roadblocks, water pollution, prison, the publically announced strategy of minimal pressing of charges of those ‘arrested’ and the growing litany of personal injuries, as well as increasing levels of political policing. John Gilligan is full of shit, and stands shoulder to shoulder in carrying out a policy of maximum harassment minimal charges, something Sheehan is either unaware off or not interested in. How is it possible for a journo to carry a piece like this an not find even one person willing to speak about their own experience of police brutality, yet jump straight to a refutation from Gilligan. He’s proud of the “efforts and dedication” of his underlings. Does he forget it’s the 11 million of our tax money that buys their “dedication”. No mention of that either eh Maeve?

2 As someone who was on the solidarity rally last Sunday, it worth pointing out a few inaccuracies about the situation re the undercover branch officers. It was pretty clear the 4 special Branch where in the blue Dublin reg’ed Mondeo, and where following the trail of cars. As the procession of about 80 odd cars did a loop around the roads passing Ms Harringtons house, the cops saw an opportunity to move up towards the front and inserted themselves, at speed and disregard for the braking cars behind them, into the front end of the procession of cars, about perhaps between 5-10 cars from the front.

The procession halted, and members of the public got out of there cars and several approached the branch car, and asked to speak to them. People asked that they wind down the window and tell them why they where being followed, why they where being filmed and that they felt the police actions amounted to harassment and further intimidation of the local community as the completed a solidarity drive in support of Ms Harrington
“Two cars pulled in front and behind the garda car, effectively hemming it in. “

This sentence is a complete fabrication on behalf of either Sheehen or her sources, or both. As noted above, the garda car inserted itself, one would imagine so that it would have a better sense of where the car rally was going. As they clearly coudnt feed back information to base control and probably felt a bit foolish havingI sat and filmed every car and family as they left from the meeting point Its hard to know why there was subsequent arrests, but they completely refused to engage with members of the public asking them to explain their activites and erratic driving, and ultimately dont like people acting in ways that are fearless of the imtimidatory tactics of filming young children and families. There was a sense of justifiable anger in the air, and its clear that people where not going to be intimidated by dangerous driving plain clothes garda who refused to identify themselves to an enquiring public
Again with 80 cars driving, mostly with families its funny that Sheehan couldn't find any voices to describe what really happened other than the spin coming from garda sources.

All in all another sorry tale. I guess one shouldn't be too hard on Sheehan and given much of the what goes for 'coverage' this piece is b no means the worse from of spin and misrepresentation

But perhaps that is exactly the piont. if this article is something that the author and editors see a something relatively balanced than it clear how out of set our media objectively is.

Related Link: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/a-plea-for-c...olumn

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