Many fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’. The Corrib gas story has mythical status alright, but… Once, every aspect was hailed by a plethora of press releases from various interests. Last week’s major development – the announcement by the Government-appointed mediator, Mr Peter Cassells, that his mediation attempts had failed – was greeted by a general silence. The only comments of note emanated from Shell and the Rossport Five spokesman, Dr Mark Garavan. Later, a press release appeared from Sinn Féin’s election candidate, Cllr Gerry Murray and a party HQ one bounced from Cllr Dave Keating. A press release from the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, made no reference to the mediation issue, but to the announcement that Bord Gais Éireann would re-evaluate Mayo towns for a gas supply. The evaluation would allow several towns to be grouped together for cost purposes. This will enable a lower common denominator than previously and will enhance chances for gas to be supplied to towns that were declared inadmissible previously. A stroke of a pen is a mighty friend!
An examination of the three main press releases following Peter Cassells’ announcement is interesting. He states the obvious – mediation has not worked. “Following seven months of intensive discussions on the Corrib Gas Pipeline with the Rossport Five and Shell Exploration Ireland Ltd and detailed consultations with the local community, no agreement has been reached to date in the mediation. I have now written to the Rossport Five, Shell and to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources informing them, with regret, that, despite their best efforts, the parties to date have been unable to resolve the differences between them. I have also concluded, given the different positions on the project and the different approaches to mediation, that no agreement is likely in the foreseeable future. The arrangements for the mediation required me to assist the parties to resolve the differences between them or, in the absence of agreement to identify the ingredients of a way forward…”
Peter Cassells will now prepare a report and will make, ‘for consideration by the parties and the local community, a comprehensive set of recommendations on a possible way forward for the project…’.
This statement is signed by four of the men. Brendan Philbin did not engage in the mediation process from the outset. It reads: “…While this is a disappointing development it does not come as a surprise to us. Despite their public pronouncements, Shell have at no time been prepared in any way to alter the Corrib Gas project in response to community concerns. Their sole criteria in determining this project have been financial and technical. They have ignored the social and cultural reality within which their project must operate. They have been blind to the impact that their project will have on the communities that will be affected and deaf to the consistent message from those communities that this project does not have their consent. Being blind and deaf is one thing, not knowing you are either is another…
“Opposition to Shell’s project is not confined to a small number of landowners.Their claim that this is so is further testament to their inability to recognise the voices and rights of the local community.
“The Corrib gas project in its present configuration has run its course. It cannot now proceed other than through compulsion and force. What is therefore required is that the present Plan of Development for this project be set aside and a new one negotiated which would prioritise health, safety and community consent… We call on the Irish government to finally exercise its sovereign responsibilities and duties to its citizens and put in place a new Plan of Development. The alternative is further conflict in north Mayo.”
Shell’s statement includes the following: “Shell E&P Ireland (SEPIL) has today expressed its disappointment that the principal objectors to the Corrib Gas Project refused to engage in face-to-face dialogue during seven months of mediation.Throughout the mediation process, SEPIL consistently offered to discuss and address the safety issues raised by the main objectors. Furthermore the company was willing, in the context of face to face discussions, to consider a number of pipeline route alternatives and is still prepared to do so.
“Commenting on today’s announcement SEPIL’s Managing Director, Andy Pyle stated: ‘The Corrib Gas Partners are disappointed that despite seven months of shuttle diplomacy by Peter Cassells, the objectors consistently refused to meet us. We never had the opportunity to discuss their concerns across a table. During mediation - we indicated that (we) were prepared to discuss all development concepts and alternative pipeline routes. But unfortunately the goalposts keep shifting - the objectors insisted that Shell committed to moving the terminal site before they would meet us face to face. This is unreasonable and unacceptable. The terminal site has full planning permission.’
“Mr Pyle went on to say, “Over the past seven months the Corrib Gas Partners have made sincere efforts to resolve the difficulties surrounding the project: We admitted that mistakes were made and have publicly apologised for the hurt that was caused last summer.
‘Construction work on the Corrib project was suspended voluntarily to allow the Independent Safety Review and the mediation process to be concluded. No onshore construction work for the Corrib Project has been carried out for nearly a year.
‘The Corrib Gas Partners have agreed to implement the recommendations of the Independent Safety Review. Despite the announcement from Mr Peter Cassells that his mediation efforts to date, have not succeeded in bridging the gap between both parties, we firmly believe that a compromise solution acceptable to the local community can still be found.’
“The Independent Safety Review into the onshore pipeline, published in May, said that provided its recommendations are met ‘the pipeline design and proposed route should be accepted as meeting or exceeding international standards in terms of the acceptability of risk and international best practise for high pressure pipelines’… “
Common ground versus differences
Was there ever common ground? The role of mediation was to prepare the groundwork and set up an agenda for face-to-face talks. The question is whether or not Shell was willing to compromise during the mediation process. The Rossport Five claim they were not. Calling for face-to-face talks without an agenda or a third party mediator does not appear to be a workable mechanism. If, as the company claims, that all options are on the table, then let Peter Cassells use that as the basis for working out an agenda for discussions. One wonders if the offer is being made ‘outside’ of Peter Cassells. Everyone knows there is a huge PR battle and last week’s political and ‘commercial’ silence in the wake of the mediation announcement indicates a Shell PR success. To compare the Corrib saga to a fairy story might seem facetious. Some ingredients are still missing – a dash of humility, a double dose of common sense and a willingness to listen.