UN Special Rapporteur on Corrib gas protests

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders has raised concerns regarding the treatment of those opposing the onshore gas pipeline being built by Shell and Statoil in Erris, Co. Mayo. Margaret Sekaggya outlines her views in a report submitted this week to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur finds that there is credible evidence which indicates:

the existence of a pattern of intimidation, harassment, surveillance and criminalization of those peacefully opposing the Corrib Gas project.

The policing of protests seems to have been disproportionate in some instances, she reports, while “there have also been serious concerns about the lawfulness of certain actions by the private security firm employed by Shell”.

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The Corrib Gas dispute has been ongoing for over a decade and remains the most high-profile example in Ireland of business activities impacting negatively on a local community. The project and the route of the proposed pipeline has given rise to safety and environmental concerns with the project. Front Line Defenders had previously raised specific human rights concerns in relation to the actions of the Garda Síochána and Integrated Risk Management Services, the private security company contracted by Shell. The Irish Times reported that protestors were under 24 hour surveillance in some cases.

The Special Rapporteur on Human Right Defenders “expressed her concern” at the allegations of shortcomings in the official investigations of excessive and abusive police actions, and also noted the reports of violent criminals acts against Shell’s property. The right to protest, in her view, risked being undermined by the practice of withdrawing or dismissing charges of public order offences. With regard to the surveillance of private homes and public roads, Mrs. Sekaggya was concerned that this could impact on the right to privacy, and recommended that any surveillance by conducted lawfully and proportionately, with the purpose being communicated to local residents.

When Ireland was successfully elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, said it was “a great day for Ireland and for the values which are dear to us”. He also said that “the protection of human rights are a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy”. The Special Rapporteur’s report shows that Ireland needs to pay closer attention to its domestic approach to human rights.

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