Willie Corduff won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for defending his homeland against a Shell pipeline. His work and that of the group Shell to Sea has kept the oil company – with a poor history of human rights and environmental protection - from building a pipeline across their land.
Willie has written this account of his latest experience protecting his land.
Account of events on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd April 2009 at Glengad, County Mayo.
By Willie Corduff, Rossport, County Mayo, Ireland.
Prior to the events of Wednesday 22nd /Thursday 23rd of April 2009 it was well known locally and widely reported in the media that the planned works for the Corrib gas pipeline in Glengad required planning permission, even though no such permission was granted by either Mayo County Council or An Bord Pleanala. In fact no permission had even been looked for by the developers Shell E&P Ireland Ltd.
Shortly before 7:00am on the Wednesday morning I learned that heavy machinery had arrived at Glengad to resume pipeline works on the proposed Corrib gas project. At approximately 7:30am I arrived in Glengad to observe the illegal works being undertaken by Shell contractors in the Glenamoy Bog Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
After a while at the gates of the compound, during which time the illegal work had been reported to Gardai who were present, it was clear that they were taking no action to stop the work, and were in fact there to assist the work being done.
Because of the inaction by the Gardai, and in an attempt to prevent the unauthorised work from continuing, at approximately 9.00am I climbed in under a parked delivery truck (belonging to Barrett’s Quarry, Bangor Erris) on Shell’s construction site, along with another local man, Gerry Bourke of Aughoose.
The only other people in the vicinity at that time were Shell workers including the truck driver Paddy Joe Barrett and people who looked like security guards.
Meanwhile my wife telephoned Belmullet Garda station looking to contact Superintendent Michael Larkin to report the unauthorised work to the senior Guard in the district.
Our first contact with Gardai on site came at least two hours later, when several officers gathered around the truck and with clear intent kicked stones and dust in on top of us.
No Guard gave me any clear instruction to move under any Section of any Act at any time during the day.
When the Gardai then came under the truck to us they were told we were preventing illegal work from being done and that the Gardai should be taking action.
Instead of following up on my complaint I was told to “shut up” by all the Guards present. They then started to pull and drag at us to forcefully remove us from our position under the delivery truck, and they used foul, abusive and threatening words while doing so.
When Gerry Bourke was removed I asked for Superintendent Larkin, and told them that I wanted to talk to him about the situation. My request was ignored, and the Superintendent did not arrive at any time during the day.
A number of Gardai were present and most of their actions are outlined below.
*Sgt John Flannery
Verbal abuse – “Get out of there Willie, ya daft old eejit ya!”
Minor physical abuse – pulled at my right ear.
Maintained Larkin wasn’t required, that he himself was present and that was enough, “I’M here, Willie”.
Shouted lots of verbal abuse – for example “We’ll get you out of there Willie, we’ll cut the leg off ya!”
Physical abuse – pulled both my boots and socks off and threw them away.
Pulled at my legs, tried to pull my trousers off. Attacked my left foot with a large pointed stone, about the size of an orange. Scraped the point of the stone into my left ankle repeatedly, causing great pain and skin damage.
*Garda Hugh Egan
Said very little. Worked extremely hard to physically remove me, worked up a sweat, and took at least one break before returning for more of the same. Didn’t give any instructions, just pulled and dragged and twisted and pinched mostly at my left leg and left hand and pulled at my clothes.
*Sgt Dermot Butler
Not aware of any physical involvement, but he was very abusive verbally, using filthy, threatening and grossly insulting language, for example “I’ll take the tool out of you Willie, and I’ll stick it up your hole”.
*Garda (David?) Hanley
Tried to pull at my right hand several times and at my sleeve.
*Sgt James Gill
Was present but I don’t recall him saying or doing anything to me.
*Garda Kevin Conroy
Was present but I don’t recall him saying or doing anything to me.
*Garda Greg Burke
I believe he was present with a video camera.
A lot of this abuse was happening to me at the same time, and a lot of it occurred after Gerry Bourke had been removed. During this prolonged assault an attempt was also made to grab me forcibly by the privates –possibly by Inspector Doherty but I shifted my position under the truck to avoid this.
After some considerable time the Gardai eventually gave up their attempts at removing me, and I remained under the truck for the rest of the day and night and into the small hours of the following morning. Throughout this period a number of people, friends, neighbours and relations, came to the truck with blankets, food and drinks to support my stance.
Several times during the night I came out from the truck to stretch my legs, as the spot I was in was very confined. During one of these occasions myself and my brother-in-law Pete Lavelle were standing having a chat, and I remarked that I could hear people running towards us. Before I had a chance to return to the truck we were both was set upon by a group of about eight large people dressed in dark clothes with their faces covered. I attempted to get away but was struck at least once on the head over my left ear by a blunt object, and got a glimpse of something that looked like a leather-covered baton in one of the assailant’s hands.
At least four of the attackers put me to the ground and knelt on top of me. My hands were pulled up behind my back and up around my head and I was kept on my right side, with the right side of my head pushed into the stony ground. One of the attacker’s knees was pushed forcibly down into my left ear, putting great pressure on my head and jaw. The others also knelt down on top of my body, and continued to force their knees into my chest and stomach and legs. I tried to make myself as small as possible, but could not move or resist. All the air was forced out of my lungs and they continued to bounce on top of me which caused me great pain and prevented me from breathing.
The grip on my hands was loosened a few times and reapplied during this attack, and it felt like they were testing to see if I was still alive or not. The last time my hands were released I decided to play dead. I let my tongue hang out and my hands go limp, and I dropped the small torch I was holding. At this point I heard a man’s voice say something like “leave him now, he’s nearly gone”, and I felt the pressure come off me.
I may have passed out at this stage, because the next thing I knew someone was kneeling down beside me and talking to me. I think he told me his name which I cannot remember – and said he was a paramedic, and told me “I’m here to help you Willie”. He put his head down close to mine to see if I was breathing and I could smell alcohol on his breath. I just said “Help me, somebody help me” in a low voice, and the man said “I’m here to help you” several times.
He told me he was going to cut my sleeve to take my blood pressure, and I was afraid he was going to inject me with something not knowing who he was or who he was with. I don’t remember my blood pressure being taken but I do remember removing something from my finger, which may have been a pulse monitor. I remember the man saying “Are you refusing help, Willie?” but I just called for my wife a number of times.
I sensed other people gathered around, and through a haze I could make out at least one of them had a high-viz jacket on, which I assumed to be a member of the Gardai because I heard a smart comment along the lines of “It’s just Willie up to his old tricks again” which is typical of the treatment I receive from the Gardai on a regular basis.
I also remember hearing my son Liam trying to get to me, but he was being prevented by either Gardai, security men or both. Insulting comments were also made at this stage towards Liam, and I got the impression the whole episode was just a big joke to some people, even though I believe the attack was a serious attempt on my life.
Eventually an ambulance arrived and a neck brace was put on me. I was rolled onto a stretcher, put in the ambulance and taken to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, where I was kept all day and overnight for scans, xrays, and treatment for my wounds.
4th May 2009.