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Gormley under attack as Corrib gas hearing opens

By: 
Áine Ryan - Mayo News

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley was yesterday accused of allowing ‘a free-for-all’ by Shell in north Mayo while cynically stalling on the controversial incinerator project in his own constituency.
As yet another oral hearing into the contentious Corrib gas project opens this morning (Tuesday 24) in Belmullet, County Mayo, leading activist, Vincent McGrath  has vowed the project “will still have to be forced through”.
This is despite the fact the refinery is almost completed and that Shell now only awaits permission for the last link in the pipeline route. Over the next three weeks An Bord Pleanála (ABP) is due to deliberate on this link, which will cross under Sruwaddacon Bay and avoid houses in the village of Rossport.
Retired teacher, Vincent McGrath, who was jailed with four other local men in 2005 because of flouting a court order, revealed yesterday that community group, Pobal Chill Chomáin has sent a formal complaint to Minister Gormley about Shell’s preliminary investigative works at Sruwaddacon Bay, a designated SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and SPA (Special Protection Area).
The works are the subject of a Foreshore License granted by Minister Gormley. They involve intricate borehole testing to facilitate the possible sub-marine tunnel for the last link in the raw gas pipeline to the Bellanaboy refinery.
“Sruwaddacon Bay is a designated SAC and SPA which in other areas of the country seem to be sacrosanct for Minister Gormley. Look at how he has stopped turf cutting on the Roscommon bogs, for example. But here in north Mayo there seems to be a different law for Shell while in his own Dublin constituency he hasn’t signed off on the Foreshore Licence for the incinerator, which has been sitting on his desk for the past year. But he could sign the Foreshore Licence for Shell within four months,” Vincent McGrath said yesterday.
Pobal Chill Chomáin’s complaint alleges that Shell contracted security guards, IRMS (Integrated Risk Mangement Solutions) are exceeding their authority and preventing people free public access to the amenity at Rossport beach. It also claims that excess marine traffic is having an impact on the marine life in both Sruwaddacon and Broadhaven Bays with clear instances of schools of dolphins being forced to swim in between the heavy traffic, some of which travels at great speed. Furthermore, the complainant also claims that not enough research has been done about the impact on the ecosystem by the rigs, which are being regularly moved.
Responding yesterday a spokeswoman for Shell stated: “Shell E&P Ireland Limited is as yet unaware of the precise content of the complaint. We will, of course, respond to any issues raised when informed of their substance by the relevant authority or Department.”
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment confirmed the complaint was being investigated but that some matters raised were not within its remit.  
Meanwhile, since the inception of the beleaguered project, almost a decade ago, Shell has committed to significantly reduce the pressure of gas in the onshore pipeline.
Moreover, the nearest occupied house will now be 234 metres from the pipeline – more than three times the original distance, according to the developer.
Now the reopened ABP hearing will assess new information and a fresh environmental impact statement submitted by Shell. Last November the planning appeals board found that up to half of Shell’s modified route was “unacceptable” on safety grounds, was too close to housing and suggested the company explore another possible route.
Speaking ahead of today’s oral hearing, John Monaghan of Pobal Chill Chomáin observed that the ABP ruling had vindicated the community’s concerns.