Ireland: Transformation of Social and Political Conflict

One student's reflection on the program's weeklong excursion to County Mayo to study the Corrib gas line conflict

Photo of County Mayo

Jayce Hafner
Ireland: Transformation of Social and Political Conflict
Fall 2009

Reflection on the County Mayo excursion
The Corrib gas line conflict is complex and emotionally charged. Many in the town of Rossport and the Kilcommon parish in County Mayo are fighting the proposition of a nine kilometer  gas transporting pipeline to be constructed by Shell Corporation through the Rossport community.  The community feels menaced by the gas line because it threatens their way of life. Not only will the cleanliness of their water sources and the survival of local animal species be jeopardized, but the farmers know that a rupture in the pipeline would incinerate them and their families with only thirty seconds notice.

This conflict seems to be one of a large, multinational corporation versus a small and determined community. It is a battle between two different value systems: "progress", economics and industrial development versus tradition and a simpler, rural community life.

From an international relations perspective, this is an excellent case study of how the global affects the local. We learned that Europe has pressured Ireland to extract its natural resources, and that multinational oil companies often contribute to the finances of the Irish politicians in office. With pressure from Europe, and promised funds from Shell, Shell's proposition is highly attractive to the government. Thus, the people of Ireland are not only at the mercy of globalization, but also the agenda of their government. The Irish Parliament, rather than protecting the Rossport community from exploitation, has actually changed Irish legislation so that it is lawful for Shell to build the project.

There has, however,  been a recent victory for the Kilcommon community activists. In early November, Bord Plean├íla, Ireland's infrastructure planning board, ruled that the nine kilometers of onshore pipeline is 'unacceptable' due to its proximity to Rossport homes, and gave Shell an ultimatum of three months to explore an alternative route in the Sruwaddacon estuary. Whether this ruling will create a satisfactory settlement for all parties involved and ultimately prevent the multinational corporation from exploiting the local community remains to be seen.

This past week's experience left me refreshed and inspired. At the same time, it made me feel worn. I was refreshed after a week walking in the beauty and wind and sun of western Ireland, feeling welcomed by the community members and at ease in their kitchens, hearing their tales and sipping their tea. I was inspired by the intrepid persistence of the community leaders, the way they quietly assumed the leadership roles and courage necessary to protect their way of life. And I felt tired because I sensed that the complexities of this conflict were many, and an easy solution was not inevitable. Hearing the arguments from both sides, and realizing that all parties involved believed they were in the right, made it hard for me to envision an outcome without bitterness or angered feelings on both sides. I maintain hope that with negotiation and open minds, perhaps some compromise can be reached. Yet after the tours, the presentations and the conversations, it seems such a compromise would be incredibly difficult to achieve.

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