AN OLIVE branch by Shell to Sea to break the ongoing stalemate by establishing a public Commission of Enquiry into ‘the optimum development concept’ for the controversial Corrib gas project has been dismissed by Minister Noel Dempsey as containing ‘nothing new’ and by Shell as ‘unrealistic’.
According to the Shell to Sea proposal, details of which were unveiled at a press conference in Castlebar on Monday, a key criterion of the proposed independent commission would be ‘community consent’, as well as environment, health, safety, local and regional benefits. It proposed that the commission be composed of members acceptable to all sides in the dispute, that it should hold public hearings and should make recommendations regarding the optimum development of the project.
The commission proposal was welcomed by a number of Labour Party deputies present at the Castlebar launch, who had visited the site of the proposed refinery at Bellanaboy at 7am on Monday morning. The delegation, which included party President, Michael D Higgins and Natural Resources spokesman, Tommy Broughan, told The Mayo News that it intended briefing its parliamentary party meeting last night (Tuesday) about the proposed initiative. Mr Broughan strongly criticised ‘the appalling handling, over the years, by the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, Frank Fahey, and Dermot Ahern’ of the project.
Michael D Higgins also stressed ‘the State’s primary duty to its citizens’ and highlighted Government’s ambivalent, ‘negative and injurious’ role in the history of the project.
“Previous initiatives have been truncated and flawed. [The Independent Mediator] Peter Cassells’ role was confused and [the outcome] was a report and not a mediation process,” said Shell to Sea spokesman, Dr Mark Garavan.
He stated that the Cassells’ report did not clearly delineate between support for the general delivery of the gas and the specific concept of the Shell project. He also said that Shell to Sea had warned from the outset that the terms of reference of the Advantica Report were too narrow.
Dr Garavan accused Minister Dempsey of doling out ‘emotional abuse’ on the protest campaign rather than addressing the substantive issues. He argued that the campaign was now coming forward with this proposal in ‘the absence of political leadership’.
Dr Garavan asked would the people living around Westport, for example, have accepted the legitimacy of a gas find in Clew Bay and a high pressure pipeline running from Islandeady, past populated areas, to the shoreline.
Dr Garavan declined to comment on Minister Dempsey’s response to the proposal, which also argued that the new proposal focuses on ‘areas that were already examined by independent groups and individuals’.
In a written response to the proposal, Shell said that while they noted Shell to Sea’s statement, ‘any suggestion that an alternative to Bellanaboy as a site for a processing plant’ would not be considered. It detailed the ‘comprehensive and rigorous consents and planning process’ the project had already undergone.
“The Corrib Gas Partners are willing to engage with any interested party, including Shell to Sea, with a view to identifying the optimum modified route,” said Shell.
According to Rossport Five’s Willie Corduff this new proposal is ‘the Government’s last chance’. “It’s time for them to get their act together,” he said.