01 October 2005

Free at last: Rossport heroes vow to fight on

Irish Independent

AFTER 94 days in prison, five men tasted freedom yesterday after an epic David and Goliath battle with the multinational Shell oil company.

The Rossport Five will savour their triumph today when they will head a major rally in Dublin - just 24 hours after their release.

There were tears and cheers for the Co Mayo men who faced prison rather than obey a High Court order not to interfere with the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline.

The famous rotunda of the Four Courts has seldom seen such emotional scenes as those that greeted the men as they walked from court into the arms of family members and friends.

The eldest of the group, 65-year-old Micheal O Seighin, with his wife Caitlin by his side, spoke of his delight at being free.

"It was OK in jail. Not having freedom was the worst part, not having a nail file, very small things," he said.

The story of the titanic struggle that has gripped the nation took a further twist yesterday as it emerged that Shell itself may face a possible contempt of court hearing.

The company had demanded the men's imprisonment. But yesterday High Court President Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan told counsel for Shell, Patrick Hanratty, he wanted the company to address its breach of an undertaking not to do anything not permitted by the licence of Marine Minister Noel Dempsey.

Later today, the men will take their place at a rally organised to highlight what many saw as the "scandal" of their three-month sojourn in jail.

The continued defiance of brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff, Micheal O Seighin and Brendan Philbin turned them into national heroes since they were sent to prison for contempt of court on June 29. But all five will be back in the High Court on October 25 to hear whether they will have to face punishment for their initial contempt.

There were also encouraging sounds from Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) which had applied to have its temporary injunction against the men set aside. The company said it welcomed a Government-led mediation initiative and safety review.

SEPIL managing director Andy Pyle said the corporation fully recognised the concerns of the objectors and the very difficult situation the men and their families had been through.

"For the past three months we have worked to bring about the conditions under which the men could come out of prison while maintaining our lawful right to complete this authorised development," he said.

Onshore and offshore works had been suspended and the company had offered to engage in third party, independent mediation, he said.

The Rossport Five were mobbed by well-wishers and media as they walked triumphantly from the Four Courts.

They said they had no regrets and the fight to protect their families and their safety would continue.

Mr Philbin said it was very hard in a democracy that they had to go to jail to prove their point.

"I thank all the prison inmates and say hello to all the staff in the kitchen of Cloverhill," said Mr Philbin.

"I feel we've won a victory," said Philip McGrath.

Fergus Black

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