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Corrib area a victim of politicians, says priest

Áine Ryan - Irish Times

A PARISH priest in north Mayo has told a Bórd Pleanála hearing into the controversial Corrib gas project that his community has been a victim of “tarnished and untrusted holders of political office”.

Speaking during the closing statements on the 20th day of the resumed hearing into the last section of the pipeline, Fr Michael Nallen said “politically this project has been through unsafe hands”.

He cited in particular former taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s involvement after planning appeals board inspector Kevin Moore turned down the then configured project in 2003.

Fr Nallen also said certain “media outlets . . . connected to the oil industry have blocked access to the means of expression for those who have genuine reasons to be concerned about the impact of the project”.

He argued there had been “derogatory dismissals of community concerns and objections by adopted advocates” of the project.

“People have been engaged to find ways of dividing, dismissing and dismantling human and community values [so as] to impose something that brings fear and alienation,” Fr Nallen said.

In his closing remarks, nonagenarian Desmond Brannigan said An Bord Pleanála’s decision not to accept Mr Moore’s report had created the continuing “impasse”.

In 2003, Mr Moore stated “this is the wrong site” from strategic planning, government policy, environmental impact and sustainable development perspectives.

Mr Brannigan, a marine consultant, said yesterday: “We are of the view that the failure of all political parties to support this community is probably the most serious remission of which any political party can be guilty.”

The resumed planning appeals board hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and is deliberating on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a special area of conservation.

It has also examined compulsory acquisition orders by Shell for access to lands along this newly modified route, the third proposed by the developer.

In his closing remarks, Niall Harnett of Rossport Solidarity Camp referred to issues about “the strategic importance and security of supply” of Corrib gas. He said that Shell’s senior counsel, Esmonde Keane, “has stressed on a number of occasions that EU law forbids Shell from giving a guarantee to sell the gas to the Irish State only”.

Mr Harnett also asked inspector Martin Nolan: “Is the decision-making ability and integrity of the board compromised by the imposing existence of an already constructed refinery at Bellanaboy and 80km of laid offshore pipeline? Are you under intolerable pressure to allow the ‘last bit’ to be fitted?” He continued: “Is this proper planning? Is it not a prime example of ‘project splitting’? Are you in fact being asked to facilitate this ‘planning by stealth’?”

Speaking on behalf of Mayo County Council, Ward McEllin outlined the history, work and make-up of committees established to monitor the project. He noted that following recommendations by independent mediator Peter Cassells in 2006, community representation on both the Project Monitoring Committee (PMC) and the Environmental Monitoring Group had been increased.

Mr McEllin said: “The PMC has worked most effectively as a monitoring committee and has carried out regular visits to the site. In carrying out the function of monitoring the matters specified by An Bord Pleanála, the PMC has been instrumental in avoiding any of the major environmental issues sometimes encountered in such a major infrastructure development”. The hearing is expected to conclude today.