"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.”
It is almost ten years since plans were unveiled for a gas processing facility at Bellanaboy in North Mayo. When permission was initially sought from Mayo Co Council for the gas terminal, the promoters of the Corrib project confidently predicted that gas would flow by late 2003. Last week's revelations confirm that Corrib is now a decade behind its initial schedule and millions of euro over budget.
Shell's plan to construct a tunnel through Sruwaddacon Bay to house the controversial supply line from the landfall to the terminal is optimistically expected to take at least two years. The project will be the subject of a lengthy oral hearing next month at which objectors will be able to voice their concerns about this latest effort to connect the nearly completed terminal with the actual gas field.
The problems that Shell are now encountering are the result of a series of decisions taken in the early part of the last decade by a Government that has subsequently been proven to have been, at best, incompetent and at worst, downright reckless.
No person who has studied the Corrib project can honestly assert that Bellanaboy site was the corret location for the terminal. Bellanaboy was chosen because it was a quick-fix solution for a lazy Government that couldn't be bothered regulating the exploration industry in the same way it couldn't be bothered regulating the banking sector.
Rather than force the promoters of Corrib to jump through a series of regulatory hoops, the Government became a simpering cheerleader for exploration companies, as it did for bankers and developers.
At a time when he should have been demanding high standards for the largest infrastructural project in the history of the State, the then Minister for the Marine Frank Fahey was signing every piece of legislation he could get his hands on to ease Shell's passage through Erris. And it would have all gone unnoticed had it not been for conscientious objectors such as the Rossport Five who decided they would not be bullied by a giant multi-national waving spurious legal demands in their faces.
The stance taken by the Rossport Five has since been wholly vindicated by events in America where the exploration on BP's Deepwater Horizon platform has clearly demonstrated that the processing of oil and gas is an imperfect business. Those who promoted the plan for a gas pipeline through the village of Rossport were either genuinely ill-informed – believing the pipeline was no different to the low pressure domestic supply lines in Dublin and elsewhere – or plainly disingenuous. The truth is that no one would welcome the installation of such a facility within a few dozen metres of their homes; and if people are honest they will accept that fact.
The problem for Shell is that it now has a completed terminal but no proper connection to the landfall at Glengad. The tunnel through Sruwaddacon is probably the only realistic solution to the pipeline conundrum but it is a wholly unsatisfactory one. Sruwaddacon Bay is a special area of conservation and should, in the normal scheme of things, be subject to very stringent environmental regulations. At a time when farmers are being subjected to every sort of rull and regulation by a Green Party intoxicated on power, it seems extraordinary that a major multi-national is planning to spend two years digging its way through a special area of conservation.
Yet what else can Shell do? Such is the disastrous manner in which the Corrib project has been handled that Shell finds itself with a terminal but no connecting pipeline. It is akin to a person building a mansion in the middle of a bog only to realise they have no connecting road.
The time-line for the completion of the tunnel through Sruwaddacon Bay is extremely optimistic, as it does not take into account the obstcles Shell is likely to encounter along the way. One of the characteristics of the Corrib project has been its uncanny ability to lurch from one debacle to another, and there is nothing to suggest that this unfortunate cycle will not be repeated again.
The only conclusion one can reach is that Corrib is a microcosm of everything that is wrong in the Irish State. Already a decade behind its original schedule, it is a fitting memorial to a feckless, bungling Government that has dumped this country and its people in an economic dustbin.
What is even more depressing is the realisation that the priceless natural resource at the heart of this sorry saga has been handed over free gratis to a multination whose annual profits equate to half of the entire tax revenue of this State.
Is it any wonder we hang our heads in despair when our Taoiseach, on a recent visit to Belmullet, tells us to “be positive”?