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Shell to Sea responds

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

WASTED RESOURCES??Ed Moran questions why so many gardaí are made available to protect the interests of one multi-national company.?Fr Hegarty’s signs of ‘disconnectedness’Ed Moran of Shell to Sea responds to a column by Fr Kevin Hegarty, which appeared in The Mayo News recentlyTHE context to Fr Kevin Hegarty’s Second Reading column (The Mayo News, November 14) begs explanation. The fact that it appeared on the same day (and on the same page) as a closely-related letter from Fr Hegarty’s bishop, Thomas Fleming has significance. Bishop Fleming was responding to a long-standing call by Mary Corduff (wife of Rossport Five farmer, Willie Corduff) to declare his position on the Corrib gas issue publicly.This call arose out of the fact that the bishop’s predecessor, Bishop Thomas Finnegan, had played a prominent role in promoting the project in its early stages, before the many deficiencies referred to in Fr Hegarty’s article had come to light. For instance, many will remember that Bishop Finnegan and the Bellanaboy (Kilcommon) parish priest were helicoptered over 80km to the drilling rig and filmed there, as shown on RTÉ news.Bishop Finnegan had previously come to Erris and presided over a plenary meeting where all interested local groups were joined into one group called ‘One Voice for Erris’. This happened at a time when both political and commercial hype encouraged all to believe that there would be gas for all towns, prosperity for all businesses and jobs for everyone! Without this knowledge, readers of Fr Hegarty’s article would be seriously disadvantaged or misled.The bubble burst for local people when planning permission was applied for in late 2000 and the EIS (environmental impact statement) revealed the extent of deception by the promoters – no gas for Mayo, no prosperity for Mayo towns and only 18 day-time jobs at this huge c30-acre refinery (not ‘terminal’ as Fr Hegarty misleadingly names it).In light of this betrayal, a handful of local individuals took on the enormous task of reading the very extensive EIS and other documents accompanying the planning application. Fr Hegarty was not one of those, though he had worked with Bishop Finnegan in the initial hyped promotion of the project. For his part, Bishop Finnegan ceased his promotional efforts but did nothing to uncover the deception which had been perpetrated – nor to heal the sense of betrayal felt by the local community.In the several years since then neither Bishop Finnegan nor his successor, Bishop Fleming, have shown any interest in the planning appeals process which the ‘so-called’ protesters have engaged in fully and which, as Fr Hegarty acknowledges, has led to the project being changed in several fundamental respects. Neither Fr Hegarty nor the Bishop participated in this gruelling long-term effort, nor did they attend the 22 days of An Bord Pleanála’s oral hearings which resulted in permission being refused, until a new application was fast-tracked through. More recently, they did not attend the highly informative 12 days of the EPA oral hearings where the implications of years of labour were teased out for the public at large.Overall, the bishops and priests have shown a decided preference for the ‘comfort zone’ in regard to political, commercial and social spheres of influence. While this is well recognised as a long-standing part of Church culture, it is not acceptable, especially for Fr Hegarty who once made a significant stand on a controversial clerical issue. Particularly, it is not acceptable that he should pronounce judgement on the Shell to Sea campaign about which he clearly has only superficial knowledge – of a decidedly partisan slant.I do not wish to engage in polemics but there are several statements made by Fr Hegarty which beg reply. For instance, his opening paragraph elevates the Environmental Protection Agency to almost ‘infallible’ status; and paragraph 4 questions: “On what authority does she [Mary Corduff] base her claims that her view is superior to the considered reflections of a reputable and independent agency? I think we should be told.” John Hanrahan of Tipperary and Dan Brennan of Kilkenny and the people of Askeaton, whose lives and families have suffered infamously from environmental pollution, might well supply convincing answers, as indeed might the people of Galway whose water supply is under the ultimate responsibility of the EPA. No matter how reputable an agency like the EPA might be, it is far from being infallible. Its recent decision did not answer many fundamental technical and legal issues raised during the appeals process and oral hearing. Had Fr Hegarty attended the 12 days of that hearing, he too might have questions.At another point he states: “Many people fear that the Shell to Sea opposition to the Corrib gas project has toppled into extremism.” I have never seen him on the road where demonstrations have taken place yet he states ‘there is no ‘community consent’ for the badgering of the Gardaí as they seek to maintain the rule of democratic law at the gates of Bellanaboy’. When faced with several hundred gardaí drafted in from all parts of the country – often outnumbering the protesters – it is not unexpected that incidents occur, as happens at crowded sporting, political or entertainment venues. He does not pose the question as to why so many gardaí are made available to protect the interests of one multi-national company for weeks and months when so few are available at flashpoints in urban communities where people live in fear from drug barons and joy-riders; or on Leeson Street where the yuppie-types regularly create pandemonium on weekend nights, as Eileen Battersby so graphically reported recently in The Irish Times.Fr Hegarty concedes that ‘there are sincere people who have worries about what the pipeline and terminal mean for their area. It is time that they seize control of the movement from extremist elements’. Fr Hegarty must know that control of the movement lies in a public meeting, open to all, in Glenamoy each Sunday evening. He is at all times welcome to attend and had he done so he would not talk so lightly and baselessly of extremist elements controlling the movement. Few local groups meet so regularly or conduct their affairs with such consistent overall agreement as the Shell to Sea group at Glenamoy!In conclusion, he asserts that: “The only realistic way forward is based on an acceptance that Shell have legal approval for most facets of the project.” Indeed they have, and they gained them by means of project-splitting. The EU Commission, by way of reasoned opinion, has long since declared this strategy to be unacceptable, and very recently it has been judged so by the European Court of Justice in a case brought by the EU Commission against Ireland (see The Irish Times, October 26, 2007). ‘Project-splitting’ is the insidious strategy of obtaining permissions for less contentious parts of a project and, by making substantial investment in them pressure is created for the grant of the more seriously contentious permissions. This is bad planning practice which the Government not only permits, but actively facilitates. These practices are a main objection of Shell to Sea opposition.Finally, Fr Hegarty suggests that ‘those who have genuine concerns should engage with Shell and the relevant government agencies in a forum where their concerns can be addressed’. This statement betrays a level of disconnectedness that is breath-taking. Shell to Sea have been doing precisely this throughout the seven-year campaign: first with the Planning Authority (Mayo County Council), then with An Bord Pleanála, and more recently with the EPA; not to mention submissions to the Health and Safety Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, The Coastal Zone Management, the Marine Licence Vetting Committee, the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Marine and Natural Resources etc, because ‘project-splitting’ involved application for nine separate licences for this project. These should have been applied for simultaneously.The work of contesting several of these involved immense amounts of documentation and investigation for Shell to Sea supporters, at considerable cost to family, social and personal concerns. Is Fr Hegarty blind to this or is it more comfortable for him not to reflect on it? He would do well to Google the term ‘agency capture’ and consider whether he is not a victim of this surreptitious form of ‘big-business’ strategy.
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Posted Date: 
11 December 2007 - 1:49pm