An upcoming exhibition of photography and oral testimony sets out to probe the Corrib gas dispute. It’s organised around the question “If I Could Say One Thing To Other Communities…” and features Rossport residents delivering sage like advice. Rashers Tierney previewed the panels and caught up with some of the organisers.
The research is based on your own academic work. Can you give us some background on that and how you came to distill it down into an exhibition?
Jerrie Ann: While I was doing an MA in 2010, people I knew at Rossport Solidarity Camp suggested there was a need for a resource that would share knowledge and experiences from Corrib with other communities in Ireland. Some local people I talked to agreed that this idea seemed worthwhile. I did a related thesis in 2011 and continued working on the resource itself. The aim was to create something short, printed and accessible.
Participants suggested that my first 100 page draft was about 97 pages too long; that people busy organising in their own communities would be unlikely to read a long text and that the images and the diversity of perspectives were very important. Following this logic eventually led in 2014 to the current ‘No Consent’ resource booklet and the exhibition.
Who are the photographers you worked with? Can you tell me something about their backgrounds and other work they have done?
Jerrie Ann: William Hederman has been documenting resistance to Shell in north Mayo since 2005. He is also a journalist and has written about the Corrib project and about the oil and gas industry in Ireland. I met photographer Alice Myers when she was visiting campaigners and working on a project in the area; she agreed to include some of the portraits she had made between 2009 and 2012. The photographs in the booklet were taken by campaigners, many by Niall Harnett, who was very dedicated to documenting the campaign and offered his photos to the project before he passed away two years ago.
Mainstream coverage of community campaigns such as that against Shell in north Mayo tend to present campaigners in a way that adheres to stereotypes. That’s why it’s important that the photographers involved in this project are campaigners first and foremost. Photography and video are important tools for a campaign like this, in terms of recording and deterring police violence, but also in countering mainstream representations.
The exhibition looks like its drawing out parallels with what is happening in areas targeted for fracking. Nuala McNulty of Love Leitrim is coming up to speak too. Nuala, are there strong links between Rossport and these emerging sites of resistance in Ireland?
Nuala: While there wasn’t strong links initially, we understand that it was John Monaghan from Rossport that first highlighted that licences, that could lead to fracking were issued in the North West when he was in Manorhamilton in early 2011.
About a year later and well into our own campaign it was decided at a Love Leitrim meeting to go down to Mayo and meet the affected community there. We wanted to know how the system worked, how the state agencies operated and who could be trusted etc. A small group went down and they spent the day talking about their experiences. It was of great benefit to us. The advice we received that day was invaluable when the gas company tried to use money to split the community.
Micheál O’Seighin again gave invaluable advice that formed the bedrock of the language we used when we placed a ban on fracking in our Leitrim County Development plan.
Sister Majella McCarron has been to see us several times and is a great mentor to the group. Sister Majella taught us that it was okay to have different competing strategies while still working together to meet the same end. Willie and Mary Corduff’s honesty and commitment to their community makes them heroes in our eyes.
The people of Rossport have shared their experience with us. They asked nothing from us.
We carry on now. We too are facing the might of the state as it introduces an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction into Ireland. We’re now on the front line and we carry the responsibility for protecting our place as did the people in Rossport. I hope we can be as strong as they are.
Jerrie Ann: As far as I know, people having been visiting north west Mayo from areas targeted for fracking since 2011 and people from Mayo have given talks in Leitrim and visited Fermanagh. Risteard O’Domhnaill’s film The Pipe and Donal O’Kelly’s play about Corrib, Ailliliú Fionnuala, have travelled to areas targeted for fracking.
In the past few years I’ve noticed more campaigners saying experiences of Corrib could help shed light on possible power dynamics in local contexts where fracking is threatened, and on other issues where the corporations and the state are working in tandem. But among the wider public I think there not much awareness of resistance to Corrib as a source of useful knowledge and experience.
It’s slightly out of the headlines at the moment, and this exhibition has a bit of a “looking back” feel to it – so what’s the story down in Rossport at the moment. Where do things stand with the protesters or is it game over?
Jerrie Ann: Shell recently started gas flaring at Bellanaboy and say they’ll pump raw gas through the onshore pipeline for the first time in 2015. I’m sure they would like to promote the view that the time for scrutiny and protest is over. However there is no ‘back to normal’ for people living beside this level of hazard and this type of corporate neighbour. The State has demonstrated that it will not regulate for health and safety or environment when it comes to Corrib. It appears Shell have long-term plans for the Bellanaboy refinery site.
Campaigners from other countries who have to live with Shell have told people living beside the refinery and pipeline that, far from being the end, this is really only the beginning of the battle. Forms of campaigning and solidarity must adapt to new circumstances over time, but on that basis I think that challenging this project is as relevant as ever.
Is there one piece of advice that crops up again and again in the research you did? If so, what is it?
Jerrie Ann: People who took part talked about what they have learnt about their own situation. Many people stressed that every situation is different, that there isn’t a generalizable formula or a silver bullet, so I wouldn’t want to single out any one perspective. Part of the process for me was trying to find where people seemed agree on what they have learnt, and where opinions diverged and to try to summarise this is a concise way. The intention (rather than to give any definitive advice) was to identify a series of perspectives which might be useful for other campaigners to discuss, with their own situation in mind.
Many of the participants talk about being hood winked at the planning stage. And also an erosion of confidence in the neutrality of the state and media. Has this lead any of them to broader ideological convictions?
Jerrie Ann: My feeling is that for many people all that has come with Corrib has meant a shift in worldview but that this is something to be put into words by those people themselves. You can listen to some peoples analyses in their own words in a series of podcasts called Airing Erris, or read the series of publications from the annual People’s Forum and a few articles and publications co-written by campaigners or Our Story The Rossport 5 but I think there is a lot yet to be said on record.
One of reasons for attempting to create a booklet using lots of quotations was to attempt to document more people speaking about how they see things now. This was difficult; to compile a very short final draft that 51 people could live with, I found I needed to summarise a lot in my own words too, and so it’s limited by my understanding.
The booklet unavoidably condenses and gives my interpretation of people’s political standpoints (and so might in some ways answer this question!) but it isn’t the aim of the project to do that.
We’ve heard mention of that booklet that was developed as part of the project How can people get a copy of the booklet and will it be appearing online?
Jerrie Ann: The resource, a 60 page booklet called ‘No Consent’ is the main part of this project. The exhibition content is one section of the resource. It is offline for now as I only gathered permission for hard copy distribution. A fund-it campaign is being organised to fund the next print run so that anyone who wants a copy can donate and get one by post.
After spending a few mornings out on Irish Water blockades and seeing the exhibition, I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain foreboding in much of what people are saying in this. It’s potent stuff. Do do you have any plans to get it around the country?
Jerrie Ann: The exhibition is ready to travel anywhere in Ireland that people feel it might be relevant. We’d love to see it sparking discussion in places where people are organising local campaigns and facing challenges in any way similar to those encountered in north west Mayo. If you have a local event or venue where you could host the exhibition and/or booklet, or you’d like to help us get it around the country in some other way, get in touch at email@example.com.
Copies of the bookelet can be obtained via firstname.lastname@example.org or check www.shelltosea.com for updates. The exhibition takes place in the Comhlamh offices at 12 Parliament St on Friday 30th of January. Full details here.