"The government has relinquished control over the offshore areas of our industry. Norway was tough regarding oil companies from the start. You now have an almost embarrassingly large pension fund. The situation for Irish communities, however, is as in Ogoniland in Nigeria - oil is a curse,”
Shell E&P Ireland and its Corrib gas partners have promised to establish a long-term investment fund for the Erris area of north Mayo on the recommendation of Government mediator Peter Cassells.
No figure has been put on the fund by the Corrib gas lead developer, which has acknowledged that it will be tax-deductible under its licensing terms.
The sum will be "significant", Shell says, and it will be administered by an advisory panel involving key agencies.
As a measure of good faith, a preliminary grant of €150,000 was committed by the project partners yesterday to Belmullet GAA club.
However, Erris Inshore Fishermen's Association, which has formally refused to accept any funding from Shell, Statoil and Marathon until its difficulties relating to the Corrib gas project have been addressed, described it as a "public relations stunt" aimed at "buying support rather than facing real issues".
The new fund is part of a three-tiered financial strategy adopted by the Corrib gas project to woo support in Erris.
Events such as Féile Iorrais arts festival and the Humbert Summer School have been given local grants of up to €10,000, with over 40 applications received this year.
Separately, 10 students from the Erris area have been awarded third-level scholarships amounting to €4,000 each as part of a €500,000 million initiative.
The scholarship recipients are not being announced, the partners said yesterday, as proof of a college place being accepted must be presented before cheques are given.
The new long-term investment fund is based on a report by Mr Cassells in July 2006, in which he recommended a modification of the existing pipeline route, improved consultations between the Corrib gas developers and the local community, and a number of financial measures, including an investment fund for local development.
This fund should be "front-loaded and should continue for the duration of the project," Mr Cassells said.
Shell says it is establishing an independent advisory panel comprising representatives from Mayo County Council, Udarás na Gaeltachta, Mayo County Enterprise Board, Erris Leader and the Council for the West, which will meet "over the coming weeks" to advise the Corrib gas partners on the structure, governance and formation.
"It is anticipated that this fund will be in place in early 2008," the partners said yesterday, as they were "committed to increasing the benefits of the project to the local community".
The announcement was made on the eve of another Shell to Sea protest at the Bellanaboy terminal in north Mayo early today. Gardaí had reduced their presence in the north Mayo area over the last month, and have said they will "assess the situation" today in relation to drafting in assistance from other divisions.
Consultants for Shell who are working on a modified pipeline route have denied that landowner opposition is delaying their preparation of a further shortlist of potential routes - promised during the summer.
Bad weather and technical factors had delayed the work, a spokeswoman for RPS Consultants has said.
© 2007 The Irish Times