"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
Legal actions brought by An Taisce and others over the manner in which consents were granted for the Corrib gas project have been settled and withdrawn at the High Court after an eleven day hearing. The costs of the actions are expected to exceed €1 million.
The settlements include an agreement by the State to properly transpose aspects of the European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive by the end of this year.
An Taisce said in a statement afterwards the manner in which the project was consented to and constructed was “a travesty” of European environmental law and its action was about “breaking bad precedents”.
The settlement represented “a victory for the environment” and achieving with greater certainty the opportunity for good precedents, An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley Smith said.
An Taisce was not against the proper development of the Corrib field, the issue was that development must be done in accordance with the law, he said.
In a statement to the court, the State defendants acknowledged An Taisce’s case was properly brought and said, in view of the concerns raised, the State would establish an Environmental law Implementation Group through which it would formally engage with An Taisce.
The State also acknowledged, in light of the decision of the European Court of Justice in proceedings by the European Commission v Ireland, that Ireland had failed to properly transpose certain aspects of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. It was intended all necessary transposition measures would be taken by the end of this year, it added.
While acknowledging the failures of transposition, the State said it was maintaining its claims that the consents challenged in the legal actions, including a foreshore licence, were valid and were granted “only after all necessary environmental assessment under Irish and EU law”. The State would also make a contribution to the legal costs incurred by An Taisce, it said.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton was told today the actions by An Taisce, and a separate action by local residents Peter Sweetman and Monica Muiller, were being withdrawn. The cases, brought against various State parties with Shell EP Ireland and Mayo Co Council as notice parties, had been at hearing for eleven days before the judge prior to today’s development.
Mr Sweetman and Ms Muller, Rossport South, Ballina, Co Mayo, own land 500m south of the proposed pipeline and they and An Taisce, challenged An Bord Pleanala’s decision last January granting permission to Shell E&P Ireland for its third proposed route for the pipeline. No details of the settlement of the Sweetman/Muller case were disclosed.
It was claimed the proposed pipeline traverses several areas of special interest in Co Mayo governed by the EU habitats directives. Among the claims was the Bord had failed to assess, as it was required to do, failed to assess the impact of the development on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.
The same parties also challenged consents for the construction of sections of the pipeline issued by former minister for energy Pat Carey and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. An Taisce also challenged the granting of a foreshore licence by Mr Hogan earlier this year.
In his statement, Mr Stanley Smith said An Taisce maintained its position that the manner in which the Corrib gas project was consented to was a travesty of European environmental law and that was why it had brought the case.
Rather than pursue the cases in open court, the State had proposed a settlement to An Taisce, he said. At the heart of the settlement was a commitment from government to complete outstanding legislative transposition and to engage directly with An Taisce to address compliance with European environmental law.
The critical objective for An Taisce was to ensure what had happened with the Corrib project could never happen again and the settlement provided for an opportunity to engage “to do just that”, he said. In settling the case, An Taisce had seized the opportunity to work with the State to ensure all development was done in accordance with law, he added.