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Fiery debate in Belmullet as Corrib gas oral hearing re-opens

By: 
Áine Ryan - Mayo News

Fourteen years after the Corrib gas field was discovered 70 kilometres off the Mayo coastline, An Bord Pleanála reopened an oral hearing into Shell’s planning application for the last section of the controversial high-pressure gas pipeline in Belmullet, County Mayo, this afternoon.
And, as has been typical of this contentious development – which has caused bitter divides in the local community – a row, over a key section of the pipeline, erupted shortly after board Inspector Martin Nolan opened proceedings. The same issue led to a walk-out by locals at last year’s hearing.
“Part of the route was left out of the application and still is and the hearing should not go ahead on this basis,” said retired teacher, Ed Moran at this afternoon’s hearing.
This concern was echoed by Eoin Ó Leidhin of Rossport Solidarity Camp who also sought clarification about the matter.
Mr Ó Leidhin observed that a fundamental issue related to where the pipeline began and ended.
Parish Priest of Kilcommon, Fr Michael Nallen. said: “In justice to the receiving community, people living locally need clarity about what’s happening. You (Inspector Nolan) have asked us to bear with you. But the people have been badly mistreated by the agents of the State.”
Fr Nallen and another local priest, Fr Kevin Hegarty, who has been vocal in his support of the project, are both due to make submissions from opposite sides of the fence later this week.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Shell,  An Bord Pleanála, Mayo County Council and locals remain at odds over the status of this section of the pipeline.
The 10-metre section of pipe, which has already been laid by the developer, runs from the high water mark to the weld of the Land Valve Installation (LVI).
It is situated at the landfall site at Glengad, where there were major clashes between protestors, gardaí and Shell security last year.
Opening the applicant’s presentation, Senior Counsel for Shell, Esmonde Keane yesterday reiterated the developer’s view that this section of the pipeline was under the consent granted in 2002 by then Minister for the Marine, Frank Fahey, under the Gas Act, and was exempted development.
However, in An Bord Pleanála’s letter to Shell last November, in which almost half the proposed pipeline was deemed “unacceptable “ on safety grounds,  it ruled that this section of the pipeline should have been submitted for planning permission.  On the other hand, Mayo County Council has stated it is exempt from planning, in conflict with An Bord Pleanála’s ruling.
The resumed hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and will deliberate on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the revised pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The hearing, which is expected to last about ten days, will also examine a Compulsory Acquisition Order (CAO) by Shell for access to lands along this newly modified route, the third proposed by the developer. 
In the opening submissions Shell expert witnesses outlined the technical bases for the newly proposed partial route under Sruwaddacon Bay and the rationale of the proposed mechanical installation at the LVI.