Recently appointed Judge Faughnan presided over this month's district court session at Belmullet. Two Shell to Sea related cases were finalised resulting in one campaigner avoiding conviction by receiving the benefit of the probation act and another - local Shell to Sea spokesperson Terence Conway - being convicted and fined E200.
When the Belmullet District court session opened on Wednesday morning there were seven campaigners due to appear in court on charges arising from the ongoing imposition of, and protest against, the Shell Corrib gas project in North West Mayo.
Shell Santa also made an appearance at court bearing gives of alcohol but the Gardaí didn't seem too happy for him to visit them in such a public setting.
One of the defendants was only arrested in recent weeks as part a nationwide Garda investigation into protests against Shell during the summer and has been charged with trespass onto the Shell tunneling compound at Aughoose during a mass protest in June 2013.
Local farmer Gerry Bourke - who has been outspoken against the Corrib Gas Project - was arrested on the morning of court and brought there under arrest to face similar charges plus violent disorder.
Three more co-accused - who were arrested shortly after the alleged incidents - have been attending court for in the intervening months had some criminal damage charges dropped - and more trespass and violent disorder related charges added under directions of the DPP.
This means that these 5 cases are now within the jurisdiction of the district court. In each case the defence barrister asked for disclosure of evidence. The judge asked that the state submitted it to the defence before the sitting on February 12th 2014.
The first Corrib case to be finalised was also dated back to June of this year from a tripod action which blocked construction vehicles working on the Corrib Gas Project. The defendant had already entered a guilty plea at court during the summer, but sentencing was delayed until this months sitting. Judge McLoughlin - who was presiding at the time - indicated that he would grant the defendant the benefit of the probation act only after allowing a period elapse without an offence reoccurring. The defendant was granted the probation act and made a €150 donation to the local St Vincent de Paul.
The final Corrib case addressed was a hearing for Terence Conway, who had been charged with offences under Section 8 and 9 of the Public Order Act at a protest on the L1202 road at Aughoose on the 11th June 2013. Belmullet Gda Seán McHale who was the arresting officer, alleged that Mr Conway was part of a protest blocking Shell construction traffic on the L1202 outside what was then the site of the Rossport Solidarity Camp at Aughoose. Garda Shane Prendergast, Jennifer Byrne and Dara Quinn also gave evidence on behalf of the State.
Mr Conway - defending himself - mainly argued the case on two points: No 1 that Gda McHale was addressing other campaigners at the time and that he was never addressed, and number two that Gda McHale only invoked section 9 of the public order act which is only related to obstruction and had no power of arrest.
Although the Garda video evidence bore out that Section 8 order (refusing to obey the direction of a Garda when they suspect you of committing a crime) was never properly invoked, the judge sided with the prosecution and convicted Mr Conway of the Section 8 charge, fined E200 and took the Section 9 charge into consideration.
Interestingly, although Mr Conway still had 4 days left on a 3 month suspended sentence from last year, the judge chose to ignore it and so it was not activated.
The next Corrib cases will be heard on the 8th of January where 2 Campaigners are due to appear in Belmullet Court
John Monaghan is due to have his remaining cases heard on the 8th of January in Belmullet Court. Maura Harrington is also due to appear.
Santa also made an appearance at court on Wednesday. To mark the six year anniversary of the alleged shipment of alcohol which former Shell suppliers, OSSL say they delivered to Belmullet Garda Station at Christmas 2007, "Shell Santa" appeared just before the session began to offer naggins of whiskey to members of An Garda Síochána. Gardaí responded quickly informing him that he was not dressed in attire appropriate for the court and physically removed him from the room. Shell Santa, apparently a satirist at heart said of the event, "its important to reward good behaviour and I am most pleased at how the Guards have continued to deal with protest in Kilcommon parish, so I came to give them one more little tipple... but they were a bit shy this time around!"
Caption: Shell's Santa visits Belmullet Court