Once Upon a Time in the West

De Facto
Once upon a time in the west

Liamy McNally

AT last!  The classic “All you ever wanted to know about the Corrib gas controversy but were afraid to ask” has arrived.  A new book by Lorna Siggins, the Western Correspondent of the Irish Times, will be launched today, October 5.  It is an important date in the Corrib calendar because, finally, there is a book that contains the whole controversy between its covers.  It includes almost ten pages of a Timeline.  The Timeline opens with 1996: Gas discovery reported off Mayo by Enterprise Energy Ireland (EEI), and ends on 24 August 2010: Bord Pleanála hearing into last section of pipeline re-opens.  For the record, that hearing concluded last Friday, October 1.  
Chapter 1 of the book opens with a slightly earlier reference!  Ms Siggins states:  “It began some 230 million years ago, or so geologists estimate.”  One might say the rest is history but that would be too flippant in describing a story that has ripped a rural community apart.  Vested interests from trans-national companies trying to exploit the gas market to state agencies who also wish to see that happen were (and are being) aided and abetted by other state agencies from Government Departments to the Gardaí.
The book will bring many a tear to many an eye.  Nobody can read this and not be affected by the sheer brutality of facts that form the history of the Corrib Gas story.  The story is one of human pain, loss, community division, betrayal, grief, political opportunism, corporate greed, monumental lies, statutory incompetence, Governmental folly and treachery.  How will it ever be explained to future generations that the state could employ hundreds of Gardaí to stand alongside members of a private security firm, backed up by the Irish Navy in defiance of members of a local community?
In 1995, some local people in Rossport refused to let Shell on to their lands to carry out investigative work for the upstream pipeline.  It led to the jailing of five men, Willie Corduff, Vincent McGrath, Philip McGrath, Brendan Philbin and Mícheál Ó’Seighin.  How will the immortal words of the former MD of Shell, Andy Pyle, be explained to future generations when he asked, “Why not have all of them committed?”  The day before the Rossport 5 were committed to prison Shell’s agents, Roadbridge, denied that it had constructed an unauthorised septic tank at the Rossport Compound.  It had and thanks to the due diligence of Paddy Mahon from Mayo County Council it was discovered.  Some public servants take their jobs seriously and work with integrity.  The following day the Rossport 5 were jailed for contempt of court because they refused to allow Shell personnel onto their lands to carry out work.  Time after time Shell was asked for documentary proof of the proposed works and they refused to deliver.  The Gardaí stood by, at Shell’s side.
The book recalls so many incidents including the fact that “within a week of senior executives of the Corrib consortium – Shell, Statoil and Marathon – meeting the Taoiseach (Bertie Ahern) in 2003, the developers were given ‘unusual access’ to An Bord Pleanála to express their concerns over planning delays for Ballinaboy.” 
It is annoying to become aware, one again, of the political shenanigans that are so deeply ingrained in the psyche of this little country.  The Green Party Ministers, Éamon Ryan and John Gormley, stick out like sore thumbs.  The two who mouthed so much in opposition were unable to deal with the mantle of power in Government.
Lorna Siggins’ book is not a happy read.  There is not a happy ending and neither is there a happy start, but it is essential reading.  It makes for upsetting reading at times when you discover that people in Mayo have suffered so much for what they believe in.  While it is upsetting to turn page after page and notice the forces being stacked against the local community, it is a book that should be read by anyone with an interest in social history, politics, corporate power and Government dealings with corporations and communities.  It should be required reading for students and community development personnel.  The book is a welcome addition to the history of Mayo and this country.  It is written by a fine journalist who never strayed from the truth.  Lorna Siggins is to be complimented for undertaking such a task, especially when the Corrib story has been used to whip the local community in north Mayo and others who attempted to tell their story.  Lorna has always been a brave journalist.  This book testifies to that.  We are indebted to her. 
Once Upon A Time In The West – The Corrib Gas Controversy written by Lorna Siggins, published by Transworld Ireland, is available in all good bookshops.