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Shell to Sea court cases: an account

jo bloggs | 16.11.2007 21:01 | Rossport Solidarity | Ecology | Repression | World

An account of the Shell to Sea cases in belmullet on wednesday 14th november, where 13 people appeared before the court relating to a number of different Shell to Sea protests.

This afternoon in Belmullet courthouse, Judge Mary Devins convicted Shell to Sea spokesperson John Monaghan of a Section 2 assault and also of not obeying the directions of a guard, relating to an incident that occurred at Rossport polling station last May. She sentenced him to a 6 months suspended jail-term and fined him €750. The sentencing came straight out of the blue as this case was actually supposed to be just up for “further argument” today, but it seems that Judge Devins got impatient and made her ruling.
This was the 7th time that this has appeared before Judge Devins and the last 3 times it was the issue of whether a Guard is allowed in the polling station that was the main issue discussed. It was generally agreed that a Guard has the lawful authority to be in the polling station.

It was argued that the presence of the gardai in polling stations was intimidating and that a persons legal entitlement to not be interfered with while voting should supersede the entitlement for a guard to be present (the same officers beating protesters in the mornings at Bellanaboy were on all-day duty in all the polling stations in Kilcommon parish at the last election). The whole issue of the legal authority of the guard to be present in a polling station was first introduced by Judge Devins on the 12th of September and in my opinion while it is relevant, it is a side issue. The main fact of the case is that you have 2 witnesses, John Monaghan and his wife Brid on one side and you have Sgt Gary Walsh on the other side claiming to be assaulted. It appears once again that Judge Devins believes garda evidence over the evidence of mere mortals.

Also on the 12th of September Judge Devins said she would deal with the fact that the returning officer in the polling station would be in a position to shed some light on the events, after she found whether a guard was entitled to be present. However seeing as how quickly she made her decision today, this issue wasn’t raised. No closing statements were made regarding the case, and in comparison with all the cases that I have seen so far the decision can only be described as extremely rash.

A bit of background on the case (none of these issues were even recapped today) is that on election day last May, John Monaghan entered the polling station to vote. After voting, he questioned Sgt Gary Walsh about what he was doing in the polling station. Sgt Walsh then asked John Monaghan to discuss the issue outside, and they both left the polling station. Sgt Walsh then states that John Monaghan with folded arms shoved both his elbows into him and stamped on his foot and shoved him back on a car. John Monaghan however claims that he was just asking Sgt Walsh what he was doing there. He said that at one stage he was leaving when Sgt Walsh said “Yea, leave if you know what’s good for you”, whereupon John Monaghan returned to ask what he meant by this. Bríd Ní Seighin also gave evidence that she sat in the car outside the polling station the whole time that her husband and Sgt Walsh were outside the polling station, and the first time she knew there was any problem was when a patrol car arrived to arrest John. This is again an example of political policing with the stated no arrest policy of the gardaí only being broken for a few high profile campaigners. Also it should be noted that at the time Gary Walsh wasn’t a sergeant, and that his recent promotion is viewed with deep suspicion around the area.

Also up today were the 5 members of the Srahmore lock-on who blocked peat haulage last June, whose eligibility for the 100 hours community service was being accessed. While the 3 of the members present, were deemed fit for community service, one of the lock-on members, was sentenced in absentia to 3 months in prison. She had be found unsuitable for community service by the probation officer due to illness and had also been unable to travel from England to attend court due to her illness. She had in the previous week written to both the probation officer and the court to say she would be unable to attend, however this didn’t cut much ice with Judge Devins who decided that even though the mother of 3 wasn’t suitable for community service, she would be suitable for a 3 month stint in Mountjoy. Finally, the last member of the lock-on while found suitable for community service was also unable to be in court due to illness and had a doctors cert present to that effect. However the all knowing judge cast doubts on the validity of the doctors certificate and promptly issued a bench warrant for her arrest.

Terence Conway and Bob Kavanagh were also up for sentencing today for halting Shell work on the refinery site on the 13th of July with a van lock-on (see  http://www.indymedia.ie/article/83416 for details). They were both found guilty of Section 6, 8 & 9 of the Public Order Acts and sentenced to 150 hours of community service or 4 month in prison if they refuse. In sentencing Judge Devins stated that even though Terence Conway had said that he took this course of action in-order to protect people, that he had never said who he was trying to protect. It should be noted that at the day of the evidence hearing that Judge Devins closed down arguments as to the reasons behind the van lock-on quickly so that then to claim that the protestors didn’t prove there case in this regard is pretty disingenuous. With regard to Bob Kavanagh’s knowledge of the area of ecology and pollution she condescendingly dismissed his opinions and stated that his reasons for doing this were based on “something I read”.

The 3 protestors who were arrested at last Friday’s day of action were also up in court this morning, and on arrival to the court this morning they were handed further charge sheets with the new charge of obstructing traffic being added to the existing charge of obstructing a garda. These cases were then adjourned until the 12th of December while the gardaí submit on their evidence to the defence.

Also up today were Maire and Sean Harrington who were up for an incident relating to the visit of Mary McAleese to Belmullet last May. There was a question as to why it took 3 months to issue charges in relation to the incident however Sgt Gill stated that he had been very busy and that it took some time before he got around to processing the incident. This case was adjourned until the 12th of December also.

Finally also up today were 2 separate appeals against Shell being allowed access to both the Rossport and Muing na Bó commonages. Shell had in the last few weeks sent out letters to some locals in the area around the commonages and had also put ads in the local papers stating their intention to carry out surveys of the commonages to see if they would be suitable for the pipeline. One of the appeals lodged came from one Monica Muller who while it this case seems to be working against Shell, has in the past also worked for the removal of the Rossport Solidarity Camp. The other appeal was issued on behalf of 27 people who have shares in the commonages that Shell wish to have access to. However the fact that Shell had not correctly issued notice to all landowners in accordance with Section 5 of the Gas Act, 1976 (see  http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1976/en/act/pub/0030/sec...976s5) was then raised.

There then followed a lot of legal arguments and it seemed at first that the judge was going to strike out the appeals. During these legal exchanges counsel for Shell, Mr Gordon stated that the 2 possible ways that could have been proceeded with was to either try to get consent or to give notice. He stated that there would be no point in trying to get consent of either 1 or 100 owners when 1 owner mightn’t give consent. Solicitor for the 27 appellants, Mr Bohan then stated that all the Muing na Bó commonages owners and a significant number of the Rossport commonage had appealed against allowing Shell access. Finally Judge Devins decided that correct notice hadn’t been given and ruled that Shell won’t be allowed access. She postponed a decision of costs against Shell until the 9th of January but stated that she hoped the season of goodwill would lead to an agreement on costs between the groups. Although one humorous point in the costs discussion was when Mr Gordon stated that his clients are very reasonable.

It seemed the irony of his statement went over his head taken in the context that 13 people were today up in court for opposing his clients plans for the area.

Related Link:  http://www.indymedia.ie/article/84637

jo bloggs

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