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A story of state and corporate corruption

St.John Ó Donnabháin - Left Curve 'forthcoming'

As part of the recent storm around the release by Wikileaks of thousands upon thousands of US diplomatic cables, a report from the US ambassador to Nigeria has been prominent. The cable concerned the oil industry in that country, and specifically referred to discussions with Ann Pickard of Shell, the dominant player in the Nigerian oil industry. Pickard, then Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, where she ‘sought to share intelligence with the US government on militant activity and business competition in the contested Niger Delta’. Shell was attempting to retain their wide-scale control of natural resources in the face of potential competition from Russia and China. The ambassador further reported that Pickard ‘said the GON [Government Of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries’. This has lead to huge criticism of Shell’s operations in Nigeria, where they are said to have a ‘vice-like grip’ on the country’s oil wealth, and lead the oil watchdog Platform to point out that Shell claim to act completely apart from Nigerian politics, when in fact they work deep within that system, and have long used channels in the notoriously corrupt Nigerian political system to its own advantage1. Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria said: ‘Shell has become a pseudo-political organisation bent on taking political power and undermining our national interest, national security, and our sovereignty’2.

Shell arrived in the North-West of Ireland almost 10 years ago, taking over Enterprise Oil. Impropriety and dodgy dealings with a corrupt political elite have followed them around during their time here too. They have sought to push through the development of a massive refinery in a residential area, which would be connected to the offshore gas field by a high-pressure pipeline running through local peoples’ lands, against their consent. Shell wanted to start production by 2003, but the earliest it will now begin in end 2012/2013. This is due to the determined and powerful resistance of the local community, and many friends and supporters from around the country and the world. The opposition has included civil disobedience, legal actions, protests, planning objections, and lots more besides. They have faced a powerful opponent in the corporate behemoth of Shell, one of the largest companies in the world. But they have faced more than just Shell, as the Irish State and political elite have been complicit at every turn with the attempts to force the project through.

This is a story of corruption on a massive scale, and of a State which has placed the interests of a foreign company above that of its own citizens, both on a local and a national level.

Background – The Story so far...

As you approach Glengad and Pullathomas, alongside Sruwaddacon Bay, the heart of the decade-plus long struggle for the integrity of the local area, a beautiful light plays between Dooncarton mountain, the bay, the farm and the bogland, and the vast ever-changing skies around, it’s easy to see how this conflict has often been romanticised as tradition versus ‘progress’. And while that forms part of the issue, with debate around costs and benefits arising from development, and older wisdoms versus hired ‘experts’, there is also so much more. It is also a thoroughly modern, contemporary story of massive business attempting to sweep all before it, of the battleground as to whether the State’s role is to participate and regulate industry (and if it can be forced to do so), or whether it is simply to facilitate development at all costs, effectively fusing with business in a corporatist worldview which sees many of the responsibilities of States as simply burdens upon the operation of the free market.

Gas was discovered off the North West coast of Ireland in 1996. Initially this was welcomed by the communities of North Mayo, but this attitude didn’t last as serious questions quickly arose about the project. This area is an unspoiled, environmentally protected area, but first Enterprise Oil, and then Shell after their takeover of Enterprise, proposed to lay an experimental high-pressure pipeline filled with untreated gas through the residential areas of Glengad and Rossport. This pipe was initially proposed to run 40 metres from people’s homes, at pressures of up to 345 bar – a multiple of the pressure of an ordinary gas transmission pipeline, which would have a maximum of up to 70 bar. Even at this lower pressure, there have been fatal explosions all over the world, from Belgium to New Mexico, US, to mention just two recent examples. As the gas within the pipe would not be treated until it reached the refinery, there would be no safety odour to aid detection of any possible leak, and the gas would contain a cocktail of impurities which would add to its likelihood of corrosion or explosion. As the industry standard would be to locate refining facilities offshore or at coastal (beachhead) locations, the need for this kind of pipeline to go through a residential area never arose before – Shell’s team finally admitted under questioning that it was ‘unique’ at the An Bord Pleanála (ABP – The Irish Planning Board) oral hearing in 2009. This would connect with a refinery in Bellanaboy which would process the gas. Despite repeated assurance from the developers and from elected representatives that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’, local people set about informing themselves about all aspects of the project. Indeed, in time they would develop a level of expertise that would repeatedly flummox Shell’s army of paid experts.

The need for the pipeline arose because the Irish State Forestry Board, Coillte, sold a 400 acre site to Shell at Bellanaboy, North Mayo. The site is five miles inland, and necessitated a pipe to connect the offshore section of the pipe with the refinery. If there was no inland refinery, there would be no need for a pipe – the alternative would be an offshore or coastal refinery. This sale was facilitated by an obsequious Irish government, drunk at the prospect of the oil and gas industry arriving wholesale in Ireland, and heedless to any concerns of the people living in the area. When campaigners met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on a visit to Belmullet, the local market town, in 2002 to put their claims to him, they were told that while he knew that they were not NIMBYs (Not-In-My-Back-Yard protesters), ‘this project will go ahead’. This issue is explored further later in this piece.

Apart from the prospect of explosion or fire threatening their homes, people in the Kilcommon area (the receiving area) were faced with the prospect of very serious environmental degradation, and a corresponding decrease in their health and quality of life. The pipe proposed to cross environmentally-protected Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Specially Protected Areas (SPAs), endangering the sensitive wildlife in the area. Furthermore, during the clearing of peat (bogland matter) from the refinery site, rainfall (a fairly predictable occurrence in this part of the world!) led to a leaching of aluminium from the land, and into drains and streams, contaminating Carrowmore Lake, the local water supply for 10,000 people, with levels of aluminium which were literally off the charts. Furthermore, having a refinery in a water catchment area is expressly forbidden in other oil and gas refining areas, such as in Scotland. There are also plans for gas flaring, i.e. burning off of excess gas, facilities at the Bellanaboy refinery. These are proven to have huge adverse health impacts on people residing in the surrounding area. While Shell state that gas flaring will only be used sparingly as a safety measure, a Nigerian environmental activist was recently arrested in the Niger Delta for photographing the gas flaring that Shell explicitly states does not take place, contrary to what locals state is a part of their everyday lives1.

A British scientist, Dr Alex Rogers, was commissioned by local fisherman Pat O’Donnell to look at the potential impacts of the development on fishing in the area. O’Donnell was told that if the proposed development went ahead, he would be better off leaving the area, due to the contamination which would result (Irish Times).

Alongside the local safety and environmental concerns raised, was the issue of Ireland’s ownership of its natural resources. Through the second half of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the exploration terms for oil and gas companies were fundamentally restructured to the detriment of the exchequer. In this time, state royalties (or ownership of a percentage of any find) were abolished; a total exploration cost write-off was introduced, and; the corporation tax paid was slashed from 50% to 25% (the process by which this happened will be examined more fully later on). This contrasts sharply with, for example, the approach of the Norwegian State, who discovered oil and gas a little earlier than Ireland, and who take a significant stake in royalties from the country’s natural resources through the State oil and gas company, Statoil. Ironically, Statoil hold a 36.5% stake in the Corrib field (Shell are the largest – 45% - shareholder, and the developer), and would never have similar standards tolerated in Norway. Ireland has the second worst terms in the world. Little wonder that campaigners brand this a complete ‘giveaway’ of Ireland’s natural resources.

As the campaign has continued, and opposition grew, serious questions have been raised about the treatment of protesters and their civil and human rights. Compulsory Acquisition Orders (CAOs) were granted on land owned by objectors to a private company, Shell, for the first time in the history of the Irish State to try to enable the company to push their pipe through the lands of people in the local area. When this was opposed, Shell sought, and were granted, an order from the High Court against a number of prominent opponents of the development, stopping them from ‘interfering’ with any works on their own lands. This order was defied by five men, who became known as the ‘Rossport 5’, and who were then sent to jail indefinitely in 2005 for contempt of court in relation to the above order, and for refusing to bow to Shell’s will. They ended up serving 94 days in jail, and their plight brought the campaign to national headlines and the attention of the world.

Protests against the development have also lead to confrontation with the Gardaí (police). Protests blocking the building of the refinery were met with brutal violence from Gardaí, culminating in a baton charge, and people being thrown into drainage ditches in November 20062; police used a digger to force entry onto the private land of a local person without permission to install a surveying Portacabin in 2007 (the Portacabin they managed to install had to be removed shortly afterwards, but not before the strain of the situation and the police surveillance or his home had lead to landowner to have a stroke); prominent opponent and Rossport 5 member Willie Corduff was hospitalised by Shell’s private security during an occupation under a truck in 2009 – senior Gardaí then attempted to deny that Corduff had been assaulted, and to cover up the incident. Human Rights groups FrontLine1, the Global Community Monitor, and Table Observers, among others, have detailed many of the abuses. These are just a few examples of a long-running campaign in which the nominally neutral Gardaí have very clearly chosen sides in the dispute, leading to huge distrust from opponents of Shell’s development.

Where does government come into this?

The role of the government in all of this is crucial to a proper understanding of how the conflict has played out. The following section will look at the (mis)deeds of a succession of ministers, and others, with responsibility for the project, and how they have overseen the transfer of a massive amount of public wealth, in the form of oil and gas, from public to private hands. The relationship between a hugely corporate-supplicant attitude and clear signs of corruption in the decision making process will inform the analysis of how the development arrived where it is today. Other allegations, the operation of an Irish ‘golden circle’ (TASC ) or powerful elite, and proven corruption in different arenas will also be examined – ‘character references’ of a sort.

A bit of History...

After the Kinsale gas field was discovered and exploited by Marathon Oil in 1973 under very favourable terms for the oil company, Justin Keating decided to do something about it. The Minister for Industry and Commerce in the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government from 1973-77, Keating put in place a regime that aimed to get a strong deal for Ireland in the exploitation of our natural resources. The exploration regime he initiated was guided by the following three principles:

   1.      The State, acting for the people as owners of the resources, should be paid for the resource [i.e. royalties];
   2.      Companies engaged in offshore development on the Irish Continental Shelf should be subject to Irish taxation, and;
   3.      Since the resources are public property, the State must have the right to participate in their exploitation.

Keating further outlined the the Irish State would have up to 50% participation in finds, that 8-16% would be paid in royalties (with bonuses due to the State in the event of large finds), and that companies would be subject to a corporation tax rate of 50%2. He was inspired by the similarly progressive exploration regime in countries like Norway, who would go on to build a prosperous economy with strong social protection on the back of the oil and gas industry.

After the end of the coalition government in 1977, when the election ended in victory for the opposition Fianna Fáil party on the back of their infamously fiscally irresponsible promise to slash taxes, the latter would be in power for all but eight of the next 33 years up to the present day – and they would spend much of that time undermining and reversing the Keating terms.

While Dick Spring of the Labour party would make some changes to the regime in 1985, when Ray Burke became Minister for Industry in 1987, he set about introducing wholesale changes. Burke abolished royalties, introduced a full write-off of exploration coasts against tax, and lengthened and liberalised exploration licences – but he left the corporation tax rate alone, saying to cut that would be overly ‘generous’. Burke had met with, and was lobbied by, over 20 oil companies – and he met them on his own, without the presence of the relevant civil servants (which would be the norm). This was despite the fact that a senior civil servant advised him that it was a bad idea to operate in this way1. Burke’s changes to the terms were referred to as ‘an act of economic treason’ by Spring upon their announcement. In 2005, the then responsible minister, Noel Dempsey, issued a statement claiming that Burke was not involved in the issuing of new terms in 1987 – a contention that is directly contradictory of statements made by Burke to the Dáil (parliament) in April and October of 1987. It is furthermore an attempt to dissociate the drastic and unwarranted changes in the exploration terms from Burke, due to his later conviction on corruption charges, more of which anon.

In the 1992 Finance Act, Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern would go on to half the corporation tax rate to 25%, a move that was too far even for Burke to contemplate. By legislating within the Finance Act, Ahern set out to institute the ‘definitive tax regime’ for the sector – and to seriously limit the scope for changing the terms in the hands of future ministers, a move directly contradictory to the Keating terms. The Centre for Public Inquiry report into Corrib explains the situation succinctly:

“Through binding the fiscal regime and permitting the alienation of vast amounts of territory for long periods in return for insignificant exploration commitment, and by transferring power and rights in so many matters from the Minister to the oil companies, the State is no longer the owner and landlord of its own territory.”

Mike Cunningham, ex-director of Statoil Ireland, says ‘the Irish terms are the best in the world’. This assessment includes countries with authoritarian regimes, like Nigeria.

Both Burke and Ahern would go on to see their political careers ended amid controversy over corruption. The Flood tribunal into political corruption issued an interim report which found that Burke received £80,000 from a property developer regarding rezoning of land while on Dublin County Council. Flood also found that Burke had received large bribes from Century Radio, in return for legislation curtailing their rivals RTÉ’s (the public broadcaster) ability to secure advertising, and obliging them to provide a national transmission service to Century at a knockdown price1. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to making false tax returns in relation to the payments from Century, and was sentenced to six months in prison2.

Bertie Ahern went on to become Taoiseach (Prime Minister), but was forced to resign in a corruption scandal at the Mahon tribunal over ‘irregularities in his personal finances’ while Minister for Finance in the early 1990s. These included: unaccounted for sterling payments received by him, and the use of constituency monies to pay for a house for his partner, being two of the most prominent issues, of many, to come to light3. While the issues and payments investigated are complicated (and reasons of space dictate a surface examination of them), a loss of faith in Ahern’s integrity and suitability to lead the country on the part of the electorate and, eventually due to that pressure, the Fianna Fáil party forced his resignation.

Fahey, the Bellanaboy site, and the start of the Corrib saga

Fianna Fáil retook power after the 1997 general election, with new Taoiseach Bertie Ahern inexplicably appointing Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign Affairs while the latter was in the middle of a corruption scandal – Burke would be forced to resign within a few months. The new cabinet also saw a newcomer to the table – Frank Fahey was appointed as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, a post seen as relatively minor. Indeed, an unnamed colleague would be quoted that ‘there is not much damage he can do in Marine and Fisheries’. Reasons of geography were seen as central to the appointment, with Fahey as the only Minister from west of the river Shannon, in the traditionally poorer west of Ireland.

Fahey’s ministry encompassed responsibility for Ireland’s natural resources. He would go on to set himself up as ‘Minister for the West’, in attempting to create a power base for himself, and part of this initiative would see him becoming an enthusiastic advocate for the Corrib gas project. One of his early, and many would say most crucial, interventions was to use his responsibility for Coillte, the Irish Forestry Board, to oversee the transfer of a site of over 400 acres to the developers at Bellanboy in North Mayo. James Laffey, editor of the local newspaper ‘The Western People’, and close follower of the Corrib saga, is in little doubt as to the centrality of this decision in the conflict which was to come, to ‘actively encourage’ the developers to take the ‘cheap’ option of coming onshore – and the damage that has flowed from the carte blanche given to Shell:

“The company can talk all it wants about the disadvantages of an offshore terminal, but the reality is that had the 400 plus acres of land not been available at Bellanaboy there is not a hope in hell that it would have been able to bring such a wholly inappropriate project onto Irish soil.”1

Fahey is seen as essentially taking the decision for the refinery to come to Bellanaboy by offering the site – ‘the company was clearly given assurances that, come what may, it would be guaranteed planning permission’. Meanwhile, in 2000 Fahey made a number of significant changes to gas and coastal legislation which were of huge benefit to oil and gas companies in easing demands on them2. Bord Gáis (Irish Gas Board) also announced the Bellanaboy-Galway gas pipeline before planning had been sought. The idea that Shell seriously considered the option of going offshore, or alternative sites, is seen as ‘a nonsense’ – and Kevin Moore, Chief Inspector with An Bord Pleanála (ABP – the Irish Planning Board) agreed in his report on the application for planning for the Bellanaboy refinery.

Kevin Moore and An Bord Pleanála

In 2000, Enterprise Oil (who would be overtaken by Shell in 2002) submitted an application for planning permission for a refinery at Bellanaboy to An Bord Pleanála (ABP). The Board decided to convene an oral hearing in 2002 to examine the application, and to hear objections. After much complex argument, and weeks of deliberations, Kevin Moore’s report was submitted to the Board, and approved by them – and it recommended refusing permission for the development:

“From a strategic planning perspective this is the wrong site. From the perspective of government planning which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact this is the wrong site; and consequently from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site.”3

Instead of being treated as a very serious issue that merited a fundamental rethink of the project, the response from governmental figures was to treat the decision as an obstacle to be overcome. Minister Dermot Ahern said he ‘regretted’ ABP’s decision, while Fahey quickly convened a meeting between TDs (parliamentary representatives) for the west of Ireland with Andy Pyle, Shell Ireland CEO, to impress upon them the importance that the project go ahead as planned. Shell also secured a private meeting ‘regarding concerns over planning delays’ with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern and senior ministers Dermot Ahern and Martin Cullen in government buildings in the aftermath of the decision. This lead to a meeting with the chairman of ABP for Shell within a week, as the company were encouraged to reapply for planning, which they would go on to secure a year later. Kevin Moore’s reward for his conscientious work was a ‘request’ from Shell to the Board that he be excluded from the assessment of a new planning application for their gas refinery – a request that, given the massive pressure that ABP was operating under, was inevitably granted. Laffey writes of how ‘emboldened by the sympathetic ear he received from Bertie Ahern’, Andy Pyle had pushed the legal injunction process to the point where the Rossport 5 were in jail within two years.

The Board had asked Shell to consider the offshore, shallow-water option, due to safety concerns. But Fahey did everything in his power to cut off this option, publishing his Department’s Marine Licence Vetting Committee report, which recommended ‘full consents’ for the project, and pointedly failed to discuss the offshore option1. Michael Ring, the local TD, said that Fahey should not interfere with the planning process, decried the ‘bullying tactics’ used, and wondered aloud if ‘Mr Fahey [would] make such an intervention if this was in the middle of a court hearing? That, in effect, is what he has done’2. Further, a documentary on the project broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 suggested that Fahey’s department ‘had acted like an implementation arm of Royal Dutch Shell, using the blanket explanation that it is in ‘the national interest’, rather than undertaking a critical audit of the project.’ One commentator suggested that the government were acting as developers and regulator at the same time.

In the wake of the refusal by ABP, a Shell memo (dated 22nd and 23rd July) which would later be leaked ‘queried whether the group has sufficiently well placed contacts with the Irish government and regulators’ in order to influence the planning process3. While the emergence of this memo may have

caused some embarrassment, the response at the most senior level would seem to indicate that the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’.

Dodgy deals and connections

Frank Fahey’s history certainly leads to questions as to his motivations, and more pertinently, where he got his wealth from. In 1994, Fahey invested £200,000 through a company called Irlasto in a Moscow hairdressing business when on a teacher’s salary of under £20,000 per year1. The salon was reportedly taking in $40,000 a month when it first opened and this increased over time. In total, Fahey owns 7 apartments in Ireland and the US, part owns 21 more across Ireland, France and Belgium, has an interest in a construction company, and a share portfolio.

Fahey also instituted the ‘Lost at Sea’ scheme for fishermen when he was the Minister. Primarily two fishermen. Who were both constituents of the Minister. ‘Ireland on Sunday’ reported how he ‘had consulted with the two fishermen four months before he introduced it; that he wrote to the two fishermen telling them they were approved before the application process closed; and that the rules were changed to benefit one of them’2. Three-quarters of the €2.8 million granted under the scheme was given to the two men. Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly was not amused, calling the scheme ‘seriously deficient and flawed’.
After one term in the Ministry where ‘he couldn’t do any harm’, Fahey was dropped from cabinet, and has not returned. Though his resignation has not been forced due to corruption scandals, unlike his colleagues Burke and Ahern, huge questions remain over his connections with business, not to mention the origin of his massive wealth.

Fahey was also lobbied by John McGoldrick, head of Enterprise Oil, for the consents and statutory instruments grant by Fahey for the pipeline, for the Compulsory Acquisition Orders (CAOs); and his help in securing land for the refinery has already been discussed. McGoldrick also socialised with Des Richardson (according to the Sunday Business Post) who was the fundraiser that cleared Fianna Fáil’s debts in the early 1990s, and also gave Bertie Ahern money when the latter was ‘in difficulty’. The Mahon tribunal is currently investigating Richardson. He also initiated the infamous Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Race Festival, where many of Ireland’s new elite mixed with senior politicians in an exercise which came to symbolise many of the problems of corporatism and the cosy relationship between politics and many of the newly wealthy sections of Irish society, notably construction. John McGoldrick and Enterprise were regular attendees (CPI report). Pierce Construction and Marathon Oil (who were both involved in Corrib), contributed to Fianna Fáil: Marathon gave £10,000 in 1997, while Pierce gave £6,100 in 1999.

A further insight into the ability to gain intimate access that the oil and gas companies wield can be seen in looking at a part of Shell’s PR team, a company called Financial Dynamics. A main mover in the company, Jackie Gallagher, was previously an adviser to Bertie Ahern and a researcher for Mary O’Rourke, another senior Fianna Fáil figure. He was also involved in setting up Q4PR (another Public Relations company) with former Fianna Fáil General Secretary Martin Mackin. These may have been the ‘well placed contacts’ that Shell were determined to secure1.

Within a year of the refusal of permission, Shell had been granted planning permission. Their ‘request’ that Kevin Moore not be involved in the assessment of the second application haven been granted. This was not a failure of regulation; this was a concerted campaign by powerful people in industry and government, working hand-in-hand against proper regulation.

The Centre for Public Inquiry
Another attempt at oversight would meet with a similar onslaught in 2005. The Centre for Public Inquiry (CPI) was set up in February 2005 as a watchdog against corruption in public affairs, in the same vein as similar organisations in other countries such as the US and Australia. It was funded by the Irish-American multi-millionaire Chuck Feeney, and its second report was into the Corrib issue, and was entitled ‘The Great Corrib Gas Controversy’. The report was a fearless exposé of the sorry saga of Corrib, as well as examining many of the changes in oil and gas terms detailed herein, and also contained an engineering report into the proposed pipeline. All sections of the report were in agreement – there were massive deficiencies in the proposed project, and how it was arrived at. This report followed on from a similarly damning report into issues surrounding Trim Castle, entitled ‘A Monument to Bad Planning’.

This rocking of the boat was not appreciated by the Irish political elite. Mary Harney, the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and leader of the right-wing Progressive Democrat (PD) party, took aim:

“The idea of some group of citizens setting themselves up with absolutely no justification to the wider public is absolutely sinister and inappropriate.”1

Harney deliberately failed to mention that similar organisations existed, and were highly respected, abroad. Furthermore, her description could as easily include newspapers – and their existence is rarely referred to as ‘sinister and inappropriate.’

Harney’s PD colleague, and Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell took the attack to a whole new level. McDowell abused Dáil privilege (which grants immunity from prosecution over statements made in parliament) to repeat allegations that the CPI’s Director, Frank Connolly, had travelled to Colombia under a false passport. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had already investigated the allegations in 2003, and decided that Connolly did not have a case to answer. But this did not stop McDowell repeating the allegations as if they were fact, secure in the knowledge that he would not have to stand over them. This in turn had the desired effect of putting huge pressure on Feeney, and he duly pulled out his funding for the CPI, guaranteeing its closure. Connolly had earlier, in 1997, helped expose Ray Burke’s corruption through his work as journalist, and would go on to do the same to Bertie Ahern in 2006.

The DPP was scathing in its assessment of McDowell’s abuse of his position in relation to Connolly:

“A public and private blackening of his name has been unleashed by the Minister. This shows a signal departure from principles of fair dealings and respect for justice to the individual citizen by the State which are absolute, save in the most exceptional circumstances and where legislated for by the Oireachtas [House]. The methods adopted by the Minister may well have undermined the status, authority, and the statutory independence of the DPP.”2

The PDs had clearly come a long way from their foundation in the late 1980s as an anti-sleaze and corruption breakaway from Fianna Fáil (then under the leadership of the infamous Charles Haughey, political mentor to Ahern and political benefactor to Burke).

Connolly recently speculated that knowledge among the political elite that a report was forthcoming which would have exposed dodgy dealings between Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA – chaired by McDowell’s wife Niamh Brennan) and a number of banks, primarily Anglo-Irish Bank, was part of the reason that that elite brought their power to bear against the CPI1. Seán Fitzpatrick, former CEO of Anglo-Irish Bank and currently public enemy number one in relation to Ireland’s banking collapse, was a regular figure in the Fianna Fáil Galway Races fundraising tent mentioned earlier, and had extensive contacts at all levels of government, as a well as (conveniently) sitting on the board of the DDDA and pushing for further development – most of which would be funded by credit from his bank, and would therefore benefit himself and his bank. Whatever the straw that broke the camel’s back was, it is certain that the threat to the cosy corporatist hegemony of the ‘golden circle’ of political and business elite in Ireland motivated the above backlash against a force for openness and transparency in this country, and a force which was embarrassing them over Corrib.

Bob Hanna and government lobbying for Shell’s project

In more recent times, 2009 saw another oral hearing from An Bord Pleanála (ABP) into the planning permission application from Shell for their proposed onshore pipeline. The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is a section of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources which perfectly fits Channel 4’s earlier detailed description as seeing itself as ‘an implementation arm of Royal Dutch Shell’. Bob Hanna of TAG wrote to ABP after they had closed the oral hearing, complaining that the Board were using a methodology (based on British oil and gas standards) which was based ‘solely on consequence’. Hanna also told ABP that Corrib meets ‘all relevant safety standards’ (i.e. TAG’s standards) – in direct contradiction of ABP’s stated ruling2. It is highly questionable that a senior civil servant would complain that safety standards were ‘too high’ in relation to a project that has caused massive concern in the community, and indeed has been changed on a number of occasions in response to those concerns. It is even more improper when the hearing has closed, and the Board is not accepting any more submissions – it amounts to an attempt to pressurise ABP in favour of the developer. Campaigner Ed Moran echoes Michael Ring’s concern from 2002 about interfering with ABP deliberations, saying that they are akin to a case before the High Court, and that Hanna ‘grossly interfered in the process’ – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
At the moment, in the wake of yet another lengthy ABP oral hearing into the proposed pipeline, all sides are waiting for what will be an absolutely pivotal judgement from the Board. Having ruled in November 2009 that Shell failed to prove that their proposal didn’t pose an unacceptable risk to health and safety, ABP called a new hearing into and altered proposal by Shell in August 2010. After yet another heroic performance at the hearing by ordinary people who have accumulated enough experience to often flummox Shell’s many experts, against the backdrop of excellent protests and direct action against Shell’s destructive surveying work – the resistance remains strong. The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has focussed minds on the fallibility of the oil and gas industry, but this must be translated into concrete change.

But, as we have seen, the campaign is facing a very powerful alliance of massive corporate capital with a State which is committed to deploying all of the relevant resources at its disposal to try to ensure the project is forced through. From the days of the massive turnaround in terms in favour of the oil and gas companies, through Fahey’s campaign for Enterprise and Shell, and backroom dealings that saw Kevin Moore’s honest report discarded, through to the enforced closure of the CPI, and Bob Hanna intervening improperly – this has been a project dogged by political favouritism and huge controversy. The issue of the police is also a very important one, but one on which issues of space obliged omission – see end for reading on the topic. The legacy of a Fianna Fáil (and also Progressive Democrat) party which has been in power for so long that it has come to identify its own interests and those of its corporate allies as being confluent with those of the State, has been disastrous for North Mayo, and for Ireland at large. The idea of an impartial State adjudicating in a dispute between two parties has been utterly obliterated. But that is not to say that the battle has been lost – far from it, and there’s plenty that you can do to help support the campaign.

What you can do
At the time of going to print, we don’t know ABP’s latest ruling, but in the event that they come back with a negative finding, financial support will be needed to take the fight to Shell in the legal arena. Any support, no matter how small, is massively appreciated – every little adds up! If you can run a table quiz, raffle, gig, bake sale, whatever – then please do.

Send your donations to:

ACCOUNT: Shell to Sea Account.
BANK: Bank of Ireland, Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ireland
SORT CODE: 905299
A/C NUMBER: 19694399
Aside from that, there’s plenty of other things you can do to support the campaign: