Skip to main content

Archive: Keeping up the pressure

The Irish Times
Saturday, October 7, 2006
Blocked pipeline: Shell to Sea protesters picketing Bellanaboy site clash with gardai earlier this week. Work on the pipeline to the Corrib field resumed, and there were reports that extra gardai had been bussed into the area to escort Shell contractors to the site of the pipeline. One woman sustained neck injuries during the demonstrations.Photograph: Peter Wilcock
Despite clashes with gardaí, anti-pipeline protesters won't give up, reports Lorna Siggins , Western Correspondent
Katie Melua would have aroused some interest if she had flown into north Co Mayo this week - and not for her distinctive singing. The 22-year-old set a new world concert record this week by performing some 303 metres below sea level on a Statoil gas rig.
Melua did undergo a medical and some training before her trip to Troll A in the North Sea. However, she was either unaware or unconcerned about the risks attached to such sea-based structures which Shell E&P Ireland has been keen to highlight over the past few weeks. Such a structure would have to be "almost as high as the Empire State building" if built for the Corrib field, Shell's new Mayo-based deputy manager, Terry Nolan, said in Castlebar several weeks ago. Conceding that this related to height from the sea-bed at the well-head, his argument was quickly dismissed as "disingenuous" by the Shell to Sea campaign, which is seeking a shallow-water processing platform for the gas.
The briefing wasn't intended to provide any headlines, in the middle of the Ryder Cup, but allowed the Carlow-born manager to set out his stall for the project which has been dogged by controversy ever since Enterprise Energy Ireland declared the gas find 70km off the Mayo coast 10 years ago (see panel). The main announcement was that the company intended to return to work after more than a year's suspension at the project's onshore terminal at Bellanaboy.
That announcement, which culminated in this week's televised scenes of local community members being carried behind restraining barriers by uniformed gardaí, was backed up by some additional "choreography" - to quote Dr Mark Garavan of the Shell to Sea campaign. He believes nothing in relation to Corrib/Shell happens by chance. Last weekend, the campaign marked a year since the Rossport Five's release from jail over their opposition to the pipeline with a tree-planting near the Bellanaboy terminal gates.
On Sunday, Chambers Ireland issued an appeal to "all relevant bodies" to ensure that work on the gas terminal site could "proceed immediately". And there was another unsubstantiated Sunday newspaper report alleging Sinn Féin/IRA links with the community objection to the terminal.
Willie and Mary Corduff, Vincent and Philip McGrath, Micheál Ó Seighin and many of their neighbours are used to the ways of the press. Lauded nationally a year ago for their principled stance against the Corrib gas pipeline which led to their jailing, Corduff, Ó Seighin, McGrath and their supporters in their parish were described as a "handful of firbolgs" by one newspaper columnist.
HOWEVER, THEIR MAIN concern as they snatched a couple of hours' sleep on Monday night related to reports that hundreds of gardaí had been bussed in to escort Shell contractors to work. The previous week, there had been an unsuccessful attempt by contractors to pass the picket.
On both occasions, the protesters recited the Rosary as Gaeilge. For several weeks, residents had been recorded on Garda video camera (as confirmed by gardaí), and there were fears that there would be verbal provocation. A few "decades" seemed the best way to concentrate minds.
And minds were focused during a largely peaceful, if tense, atmosphere - interrupted only by jeers and cheers as the convoy of jeeps and lorries bearing Shell contractors arrived shortly before 8am. One woman, Mary Coyle, sustained neck injuries and required oxygen from Dr Jerry Cowley, Mayo GP and Independent TD. Dr Cowley, who was en route to support the demonstration when he got the emergency call, says he was forced to walk more than a quarter of a mile with three medical bags.
"However, I don't blame the gardaí - I blame those who sent them here," Dr Cowley told The Irish Times. "This is a dignified, concerned community of people in this area (Kilcommon parish), which is virtually united in its opposition to a project which it believes to be unsafe. And the State has reached a new low in its attempt at bullying them into accepting something they don't want."
Cathal Shevlin from Belmullet further west has a different view. He owns one of several companies awarded contracts for Bellanaboy and employs between 10 and 15 people.
"We are waiting a year for this job, and it is a long time," he said. "There's talk of intimidation but we have had no experience of that. Tensions are high, yes, but we all have to live and it is hard to turn down work in your own county when such opportunities are limited up here."
The benefits to the community were highlighted this week in half-page advertisements taken out in the national newspapers by the Corrib gas partners, Shell, Statoil and Marathon. "This project, which is of national importance, has undergone one of the most thorough and lengthy planning processes in the history of the State," it read.
It omitted to explain that the 9km high-pressure onshore pipeline was exempt from planning, and that the terminal was only approved second time round by Bord Pleanála in the "national interest" after its inspectors' concerns about health and safety and the "wrong location" were overruled.
Even as the advertisements were being prepared, European gas prices fell below zero as extra supplies from the new Langeled pipeline linking Norway to Britain caused a glut. Another pipeline from the Netherlands will be opened in December, and companies, including a Shannon-based venture here, are preparing to build terminals to import liquefied natural gas.
The Garda presence in Erris was reduced by the end of the week. Members of the Rossport/Glengad/ Glenamoy community say they are determined to maintain a presence at Bellanaboy. Later this month, Bríd McGarry, the largest landowner on the original pipeline route, will return to the High Court where she and three neighbours have lodged counter-claims against Shell.
And the joke up in Erris is that if Moyross in Limerick needs extra gardaí for its difficulties, there's one easy way to do it - round up a few concerned neighbours and recite the Rosary on a public road.

Battle of the Corrib field:10 years down the line
October 1996 Corrib field discovery declared 70km off Mayo coast
November 2000 Main developer Enterprise Energy Ireland (EEI) seeks planning permission for an onshore gas processing terminal on a 400-acre Coillte site at Bellanaboy
February 2002 Bord Pleanála oral hearing over onshore terminal
April/May 2002 Minister for Marine Frank Fahey approves plan of development for Corrib gas field, signs foreshore licence and compulsory acquisition orders to farmers' land for onshore pipeline
April 2003 Bord Pleanála rejects permission for terminal because of high risk posed by peat transfer from Bellanaboy, but overrules two of its inspectors' three objections, including risk to health under Seveso II directive
September 2003 New Corrib gas owner Royal Dutch Shell submits new terminal planning application, focusing on peat transfer
October 2004 Bord Pleanála approves the terminal project with conditions
June 2005 Five Mayo men opposed to the onshore pipeline jailed for contempt of court, and work suspended at Bellanaboy terminal. Supporters of the men form Shell to Sea campaign
September 2005 The Rossport Five released after Shell drops injunction
November 2005 Minister for Marine appoints Peter Cassells as mediator
May 2006 Safety review of pipeline by Advantica consultants recommends pressure be reduced to 144 bar
July 2006 Government mediator Peter Cassells fails to reach agreement and recommends pipeline route be modified
September 2006 Shell says pipeline route modification could take up to a year to plan and announces immediate return to work at Bellanaboy terminal
© 2006 The Irish Times

Posted Date: 
2 October 2007 - 11:54pm