"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
A DISTRICT Court judge who recently ruled that Shell EP Ireland was in contempt of court was told yesterday the company was “very unhappy” with her judgment and wished it to be clarified by the High Court.
On September 4th last, Judge Mary Devins found Shell in contempt of a District Court order, issued in November 2007, prohibiting the company from carrying out exploratory works on the Rossport commonage in north Mayo. Sentencing, subject to conditions, was adjourned until yesterday’s sitting of Westport District Court.
The court order was originally made after Monica Muller, and 25 others, brought a case under Section 26 of the Gas Act 1976. They claimed they had not been served with proper notice of Shell’s intention to carry out the works. Part of the proposed modified pipeline route for the Corrib gas project runs through these lands.
Ms Muller, of Rossport South, took a civil action against the company, claiming it had breached the order on four different occasions.
At hearings last May and June, John Gordon, counsel for Shell, argued that the company had acquired a share in the commonage in the interim and had not entered the lands before advising Ms Muller of its new status. Evidence was also given that Shell had applied to An Bord Pleanála for compulsory acquisition orders (CAOs) for lands under the Gas Act 1976. In anticipation of these CAOs being granted, Shell said inspections of the lands were necessary.
However, it also emerged during the hearings that Shell had never sought to vacate the judge’s order.
Addressing Judge Devins yesterday, Mr Gordon said: “My clients are unfortunately very unhappy with the judgment of contempt and have instructed me to [give notice of an application] to state a case. This was filed in the District Court in Ballina this morning and served on Ms Monica Muller also this morning.”
The application was filed under the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1857 and the Courts Supplemental Provisions Act 1961.
Mr Gordon asked for an adjournment in order “to flesh out the issue”.
Marilyn McNicholas, counsel for Ms Muller, observed that while Shell’s application was filed under criminal law acts, the judge had found the company guilty of civil contempt. She also observed that Shell’s legal representative had not specified in the application on what point of law the judge had erred.
Judge Devins said her findings were based on “a technical contempt”. She noted that two of the conditions imposed on September 4th had been fulfilled. The court was told that a €3,000 fine had been paid by Shell to Ms Muller’s charity of choice, An Taisce’s planning unit, and that costs would be resolved between both parties.
Judge Devins adjourned the case for consideration of the legal minutiae of Shell’s application to the High Court and to address the fulfilment of the third condition imposed – an application by Shell to vacate her court order.
The case will be further heard at Westport District Court at 2pm on October 8th next.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times