The five men from Co Mayo were jailed for contempt of court over their opposition to plans by Shell to run a major pipeline ashore from the Corrib gas field, off Ireland's west coast.
The men claim a high-pressure gas pipeline, which is to be laid close to their homes, poses a major safety hazard. They remained in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin, yesterday during the latest court hearing on the issue. The case returns to court next Wednesday.
Their imprisonment has caused a local outcry, with 1,500 people attending a protest rally in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Many people believe the imprisonment of the so-called Rossmore Five, has conferred on them an element of martyrdom. Others support the project, which is an important part of Irish energy plans, and it has developed into a highly emotional and contentious issue. With feelings running high, the pipeline controversy is a public relations minefield for Shell.
The president of the Dublin High Court, Judge Joseph Finnigan, said yesterday that even if the injunction granted to Shell was lifted the men would remain in prison because they would still be in contempt of court.
He declared: "The short answer is that their fate is in their own hands still. It's up to them to purge their contempt."
Counsel for Shell said in court: "The situation is sensitive because five people are in jail. Shell do not want anyone in jail, they just want to proceed with the construction of the pipeline."
The company later said it had no wish to inflame the situation, calling for "reasoned and constructive dialogue" with the landowners who, it said, had declined to meet its representatives.
A major concern for the protesters is that the gas will not be refined offshore, but will pass in untreated form along the pipeline to a new onshore refinery.
Shell's argument that this was necessary to reduce the risks to the public and its personnel, and for reasons of cost, is hotly contested by opponents of the scheme who claim it contains many dangers. The scheme has been subject to a detailed planning process, which has taken several years, but protesters are highly critical of not just the company but of the Irish government.
The authorities have commissioned two reports into the planned pipeline which concluded that safety levels are in line with international standards. Protesters complain, however, that the companies which drew up the reports have connections with Shell.
Jerry Cowley, an independent member of the Irish parliament who supports the campaign, said: "These men should have had their freedom but they are languishing in jail.
"I was in with them last night. They are bearing up well, considering the circumstances. They are full of determination, full of courage, but it's no bed of roses being in prison."