Irish documentary filmmaker Risteard O’Domhnaill witnessed firsthand the 10-year battle of a small Irish village that stood up to the Shell Oil Co., which was building a pipeline on their land. At the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival, O’Domhnaill details his experience of going behind the reports put forth by mainstream Irish media to get to the real story.

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Filmmaker Risteard O’Domhnaill: The west of Ireland is becoming a new oil and gas frontier.

An offshore pipeline, a very high-pressure raw gas pipeline. Bring it onshore. True farmland, close to people’s houses and into a refinery in the middle of villages.

But the problem was that this pipeline was very dangerous. They didn’t even have to go through the planning commission because the government just signed off under the stroke of a pen.

Willie Corduff: They came telling us what they were going to do. They never asked us at any stage for permission.

O’Domhnaill: It’s a film about a community and when people are confronted with just massive odds, and they try to seek protection and justice from their own state, how their own state turns their back on the people, hands over control and power to large, private interests.

Reporter: Five Rossport men jailed for their protests against the Shell Corrib gas pipeline were finally released from Cloverhill Prison this afternoon.

O’Domhnaill: I started covering the story for news. The more I looked into it, the more I realized, I suppose, that there was a large agenda among the media to portray to locals as anti-development, anti-fossil fuels, environmental lunatics.

The main media mogul in Ireland is a guy called Tony O’Reilly. And he owns an oil company named Providence Resources. It’s in his interest that Corrib Gas comes onshore and the project goes through efficiently.

Corduff: Rest of the water and the rest of the country, they’re trying to stop them from being common criminals, and here, they try to make criminals out of us ordinary people.

O’Domhnaill: It was a very, very unfair fight, but one which the locals, going up against the government and one of the world’s most powerful oil companies, to take them on and hold them back for 10 years, that’s just incredible.

It’s kind of a character documentary. There’s a farmer called Willie Corduff, who spent 94 days in jail for opposing Shell.

Corduff: With the pressure that be in that pipe, there’s no way that anyone can come to me and guarantee me that it’s safe.

O’Domhnaill: And he has a very strong connection with the environment and the surroundings. And then there’s Monica Muller, always does things by the book, by the law – taking on Shell through the courts and using the system.

And the same law that put five of her neighbors to jail in 2005, she used the exact same laws against Shell to hold up Shell when they try and bring the pipeline close to her house.

Pat “The Chief” O’Donnell – he’s a crab fisherman, and he takes his small 45-foot wooden crab boat up against the largest pipe-laying ship in the world, The Solitaire. It’s the size of two football stadiums. And it’s a kind of a standoff.

Pat O’Donnell: My Livelihood. My livelihood. I’m not leaving no area.

O’Domhnaill: What the locals wanted was not to stop the gas, but they wanted it to be done closer to industry standard. And their own police force was sent in against them.   

However, always when they get vindication, Shell and the government move in and they get laws overturned, they get laws changed, and it brings the community back to square one.

You see within the community, you see people’s strong points, but you also see their weaknesses. There’s a division between the people who accepted the gas and took money to have the pipeline laid through their land and the people who didn’t. 

When the banking crisis came, we kind of realized the country was bankrupt. When we launched the film, it was kind of at that time. And so the story kind of has become like a microcosm of where we went wrong as a country. However, the elephant in the room in the story is how we gave away our natural resources.

Originally, in the ’70s, we had very responsible ministers who put in place gas terms similar to Norway. We had much more accountability from the oil companies. However, that was dismantled in the late ’80s, the early ’90s by politicians who were involved in corrupt practices. And we’re dealing with the fallout of that now when the pipe is very much the human consequences of that. But you think stuff like this only happens in the Third World or happens in Nigeria. In Ireland, we kind of pride ourselves on being a strong democracy, a very transparent democracy, until you realize that, actually, our democracy is very, very flawed.   

Interviewer: Jackie Bennion
Camera: David Ritsher
PA: Lauren Rosenfeld
Editor: Ariane Wu

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