"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
Monday 13th Nov 2006
Labour Party president Michael D Higgins has criticised the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny over their stance on the Corrib gas issue, and has said that the north Mayo community has "genuine grievances".
He said Bertie Ahern was "distorting the facts" in relation to planning approval for the complete project. He also said it was "simply wrong" to suggest that the Shell to Sea campaign had been "infiltrated".
Mr Higgins was reacting to the Taoiseach's statement on Friday, when gardaí used batons to quell demonstrations at Bellanaboy and eight people, including four gardaí, were injured. Mr Ahern had said that "negotiations" were over on the project and the rule of law had to be enforced.
At the weekend, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he believed that outside influences were undermining the legitimate concerns of local campaigners. "My appeal to the law abiding citizens of my own constituency is to distance themselves from aggressive influences from outside", he said at a Technical Engineering and Electrical Union conference in Dundalk, Co Louth.
However, Mr Higgins said that the majority of people he and a Labour Party delegation had met at protests at Bellanaboy last week were "muintir na haite" who were "90 per cent" from the area with legitimate health and safety concerns. Mr Higgins said there should be some examination of the Garda handling of Friday's protest, and said that the Taoiseach was "distorting the facts" in stating that the planning process was completed.
Approval was not complete in relation to a number of technical aspects of the project, including cold venting of the gas at the terminal which had not been the subject of an environmental impact statement, and an EPA licence had still not been granted, Mr Higgins said. A number of questions still hung over the "European dimension", he said, including the EU habitats directive. Legal aspects were also still the subject of court proceedings, he noted.
The Labour Party has endorsed the proposed external examination of the Corrib gas project as proposed by the Shell to Sea campaign a week ago, Mr Higgins said.
Many Irish people were also concerned about the wider issue of changes in the licensing regime for exploration and exploitation of natural resources, and if the Taoiseach had courage he would facilitate an Oireachtas examination of these concerns, Mr Higgins added.
Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley intends to form a cross-party parliamentary delegation to visit Norway and highlight Statoil's role in the Corrib project, following Friday's protests.
One protester is still in hospital after being pushed into a ditch at Bellanaboy, and Erris fisherman Pat O'Donnell sustained substantial bruising at a separate picket at Barrett's quarry which delivers supplies to the gas terminal project.
Mr O'Donnell said yesterday he believes he would have been "left for dead" by the gardaí, but for the intervention of a local man who was passing by and the presence of an independent film-maker. The local man told The Irish Times that three gardaí were pinned on top of Mr O'Donnell, including one on his head, when he arrived at the scene.
The film-maker, Jim Cahill, said the scenes he and his cameraman witnessed outside the quarry were "very harrowing". A truck had already left the quarry and there was a "thin picket line" when gardaí intervened, he said.
Chief Supt Tony McNamara said that gardaí were defending two constitutional rights - the right to peaceful protest and the right of people to access to their place of work.
If the gardaí could be assured that protests were peaceful, large numbers of officers would not be required. However, the force may have to increase if another day of action, similar to that on Friday, is planned by the Shell to Sea campaign, he added.
© The Irish Times