TENSIONS are palpable as the Bord Pleanála oral hearing into Shell E&P Ireland’s application for the last section of the Corrib high-pressure gas pipeline continues. Here, The Mayo News provides exclusive coverage of the complex issues that last week led board Inspector Martin Nolan to remark on the “significant social issues and tensions involved”, and, moreover, make a commitment to allow time to address these matters later during the hearing.
THE PARISH PRIESTS
A NORTH Mayo priest has strongly defended ‘the human rights’ of his parishioners some of whom he claims ‘cannot sleep at night’ due to ‘the turmoil’ they have been exposed to because of the ongoing Corrib gas controversy.
The Parish Priest of Kilcommon, Father Michael Nallen was the second priest to address the Bord Pleanála hearing into the controversial project.
On Wednesday last, his diocesan colleague, Father Kevin Hegarty, who ministers in Kilmore-Erris, said this project was ‘arguably’ the most forensically examined project in the 88-year history of the State.
Heckled at one stage during his delivery, Father Hegarty said: “I believe that Shell has sought to fulfill the requirements of Irish, European and international environmental laws in its planning, construction to date and proposed operation of the development.”
Noting the project’s strategic importance for Erris, Mayo and Ireland he said: “I also believe that, particularly from late 2005 onwards, the company has shown a willingness to be a good neighbour and contribute positively to the community.”
Father Hegarty also said he believed the vast majority of the Erris community supported the development.
“I know there are sincere people among the protestors. I believe, however, their fears about the safety of the pipeline have been grossly inflated by the sulphurous rhetoric of those who wish to prevent the delivery of the gas on ideological grounds. I also sense that some of those opposed to the development abhor the extreme tactics of a minority of their group.”
He cited the supervisory and statutory roles of such government agencies as An Bord Pleanála and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The main thing that gives me confidence about the human and the environmental safety of the Corrib gas development is that there are stringent Irish, European Union and international laws and directives governing planning applications.”
Addressing the hearing on the following day (Thursday, September 2), Father Michael Nallen accused the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley of using one rule for his own constituency in south Dublin and another for the remote community, in Kilcommon Parish, where he ministers.
Father Nallen said: “Just because we are not living in John Gormley’s constituency does not mean we don’t have human rights. The Green Party seems more concerned with the rights of animals and frogs than with people.”
He was referring to the fact that Mr Gormley issued a Foreshore License to Shell within four months for ongoing boreholing work in Sruwaddacon Bay and is still stalling after two years regarding a license for the controversial incinerator in Ringsend.
“I am conscious of the political background to this project but the people of Rossport and Aughoose have the same rights as the people living on the east coast,” Father Nallen said.
He observed that himself, and the other two priests, who minister in the parish, are concerned about issues of ‘social justice ‘and human rights’.
“We would have ethical concerns about the level of compensation being offered to fishermen and clubs and organsiations, many of which are not in the hazard zone of this project.”
He continued: “As a parish priest I am privy to the fears, worries, tensions between neighbours because of this project. People are not able to sleep at night because of the level of exposure to turmoil.”
The resumed planning appeals board hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and will deliberate on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It will also examine Compulsory Acquisition Orders (CAOs) by Shell for access to lands along this newly modified route, the third proposed by the developer.
A RETIRED Department of Education Psychologist criticised Shell’s public relations strategy of targeting schools ‘with baubles and trinkets’ during Thursday’s hearing. He claimed the company ‘was manipulating the community in a shameless way in order to achieve their own ends’.
Educational Psychologist, Tom McAndrew, a native of Erris, said: “Shell is well aware that their Corrib project has split and divided this community in terms of support or opposition. Not only is the community divided, but also families and staff within schools.”
He observed it was hard to blame schools and boards of management – desperately short of funds – for being tempted by such obvious generosity.
“Principals and Boards of Management were placed in an invidious position and under pressure from some of their parents to engage with Shell,” he continued. Mr McAndrew suggested this caused ‘psychological pressure’ and ‘occasional strife between some students’ caught up in the tension caused by community and familial divisions.
He said the Shell project ‘has destroyed much of the social capital of this community’.
“I wonder, when all of this is over, if Shell will produce one last cheque to run the mediation courses that will be necessary for this sundered community,” he concluded.
Responding, Esmonde Keane, Senior Counsel for Shell, said he ‘absolutely rejected that it was manipulating the community’. He argued the company’s various grants and schemes were established to ‘give back to the community’ and cited Independent Mediator, Peter Cassells’ recommendation for community investment.
Afterwards, members of the Board of Management of Pullathomas National School made a brief submission about their concerns in relation to the pipeline route, which runs in close proximity to the school.
They sought a ‘guarantee for the future health and safety of those using the school and the playing fields’.
IN a submission in favour of the project by the Regional Director West of business lobby group, IBEC, John Brennan said there would be 130 permanent jobs when the Corrib gas refinery – which will operate 24 hours a day – is operational.
Mr Brennan observed that towns in the west were already benefiting from the supply of natural gas because of infrastructural development, in relation to the project.
“We are highly dependent on imported fossil fuels and need to develop our own fields and hence the requirement to proceed with the delivery of the Corrib gas,” he said.
Referring to the delay in its delivery, Mr Brennan said: “This project is several years behind schedule, for a variety of reasons, and this could damage Ireland’s international reputation regarding foreign direct investment, including by energy companies.”
Speaking on behalf of local suppliers and contractors, Brendan Hegarty said he, and the other businesses he represented, had ‘found Shell to be an excellent organisation to work with and that the company places ‘a strong emphasis on safety all the time’.
“The wider community in which we and our staff live has also benefited enormously from this project. As a result of the significant up-skilling and retraining of local staff … Erris now has a strong, skilled and professional workforce readymade for any future projects or industries that might develop in this area,” Brendan Hegarty said.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Coláiste Uisce and Chairman of community group, Pobal le Chéile Ciarán O’Murchu ‘in the interest of public safety’ called on the planning appeals board to ‘seek an independent review of all the separate elements of this project to include the overall plan of development prior to making its decision on the onshore pipeline’.
“As you are aware Mr Chairman there have been many accusations of political interference in relation to this development. I do not intend to rehash these arguments, however, it should be noted that since the last oral hearing, more information supporting these claims has come to light,” Ciaran Ó Murchú observed.
POBAL CHILL CHOMÁÍN
FORMER Bord Gáis engineer, Leo Corcoran, made a presentation on behalf of local community group, Pobal Chill Chomáin. In his submission, he argued that the Land Valve Installation (LVI) at Glengad – the site of major clashes last year – was in an inappropriate location.
“The site at Glengad does not meet the risk criteria by An Bord Pleanála as outlined in the Board’s letter of 2nd November 2009,” Mr Corcoran said. He was referring to a letter in which the board deemed almost half the then proposed pipeline as ‘unacceptable’ on safety grounds.
He said the QRA (Quantified risk Analysis) in the current EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) ‘does not include the analysis requested by the board’.
“Had this analysis been carried out it is most likely the site at Glengad would fail the risk thresholds set by An Bord Pleanála,” he said.
He also argued that government agencies and ministers with the powers and duties to regulate this project failed to ensure that international best practise applied.
“The developers current solution of boring a 4.2 metre tunnel to accommodate a 0.5 meter pipe would never have got beyond the stage if this was proposed in 1999,” Mr Corcoran said.
ROSSPORT FIVE’s Micheál Ó Seighin called for the establishment of a Whistleblowers’ Charter.
“Given the enormous power wielded by this behemoth [Shell] in the case of Ireland, at any rate, a whistleblowers’ charter is essential if a modicum of trust is to be generated between the industry and the state establishment on one side and the citizen on the other,” Micheál Ó Seighin said.
He observed that: “The Deepwater Horizon debacle has put paid to any suggestion that risk equations make anything safe; that the hydrocarbon industry is anything but dangerous for workers or for other people who come in proximity to it; that a structure can’t fail; and more and more, that procedures dependent on a perfect workforce are anything other than window dressing, because people do as people are.”
Local resident, Jarlath McAndrew sought clarification about the fact that Shell route consultants, RPS said three years ago ‘the pipeline could not come up the bay (Sruwaddacon, the newly proposed partial route] as it would be in close proximity to the school, church, graveyards and public house where people congregate’.
Referring to comments about objectors made in a submission by Father Kevin Hegarty, whose parish is around 12 miles from the project, Mr McAndrew said: “ [We] are not anarchists or blind people looking for a black cat in a dark room that’s not there, we are ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances, while trying to protect our families, our environment and our community. Unfortunately, being a real neighbour of Shell is not quite as glamorous as it appears to people who are far removed from the situation.”
Meanwhile, Solicitor, Paul Brennan, made a submission on behalf of local farmer and postman, John Barrett whose home ‘was almost destroyed’ during the devastating 2003 landslide on Dooncarton mountain.
“The [Barrett] family has already had to suffer the heartache and trauma that resulted from the significant landslide that almost destroyed his property in 2003. The scars from the landslide are still visible. The family is concerned that the pipeline tunnels [proposed under nearby Sruwaddacon Bay] and other works close to their home could cause further landlslides during the construction stage and into the future,” Mr Brennan said.
SUPPORTING the project on behalf of Belmullet GAA , John Gallagher, chairman, argued that the stringency applied by Shell in its funding schemes challenged the veracity of any notion that the company had tried to buy the support of local organisations.
“We, in Belmullet GAA Club … draw our membership and players from a population base of 4,000 and field teams from Under-8 through to senior. Belmullet GAA’s decision to support the Corrib project has been discussed at club meetings over the past four years and has received unanimous backing and support at all times.”
MAURA HARRINGTON AND SHELL TO SEA
HIGHLIGHTING the national economic crisis in the context of the project, Ms Harrington observed: “There is nothing strategic about the application other than for the private shareholders of RDS plc, Vermillion Inc and the citizens of the Norwegian state. A 25 to 40 per cent of Corporation Tax as a sole hydrocarbon tax cannot by any stretch of credulity be deemed to address the common good. This country is in a state of chassis and will remain so for the foreseeable future yet the last prime asset which should be within the control and management of the state is ceded to foreign oil companies.”
She submitted a copy of the Marine Institute’s map, called, The Real Map of Ireland’ showing the currently designated Irish continental shelf.
“The application before the board is designed to get a conduit for the plunder of Irish oil and gas thought Sruwaddacon by devious use/abuse of process. … The long term purpose of the oil companies is that the Ballinaboy refinery would be the hub for export of most if not all oil and gas from the Atlantic Ridge thereby becoming the other end of a long transmission network.”
The hearing continues this week.