"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.”
Last week my alternate column colleague, Fr Kevin Hegarty, was critical of my article on the Corrib gas project. He singled out the use of the word ‘debacle’ in the headline. I would like to bring to his notice that the headline ‘Corrib Debacle Continues’ was inserted at the sub-editing stage. My headline was ‘Cavalier Corrib Marches On.’ I might add that the use of the word ‘debacle’ in the headline is something I wholly agree with. I used the word in the body of the article to describe the ‘recent tunnelling convoy debacle.’ I make no apology for its use.
I made two phone calls to Shell offices in Mayo and Dublin the previous week for a comment on the cross-country convoy. I was not afforded the good manners of a reply to either call. Fr Kevin, acting I presume as an apologist for Shell in his column, is, perhaps, their response, I do not know.
Fr Kevin described how good Shell is for the county and listed various support programmes that it has instituted for north Mayo. The trans-national company has done all of that but only after it and statutory bodies were challenged every step of the way by local people who questioned their motives in the area. He admitted that he is a member of Shell’s Third Level Scholarship Programme. How many people from the parish most affected by Shell’s work are on any of these committees? How many of the people whose lives have been and are being continuously disrupted by Shell and their private security firm are benefiting from these schemes?
We are back to the age-old question of rights and responsibilities. It appears that the local people are low on the rights scale but high on the responsibilities scale. Shell can block a road for days without consequence but a local person who attempts to do so will face criminal charges.
When Minister Frank Fahey was in charge of the Marine and Forestry portfolio the initial disrespect was shown to local people. Under forestry regulations the state-sponsored Coillte (the then owners of the current Bellanaboy Corrib Gas Refinery site) was obliged to inform local people that the site had been sold to Shell’s predecessors, Enterprise Energy Ireland Ltd, with monies received to benefit the local area.
Neither Coillte nor Minister Fahey fulfilled their duty in either respect. That is where the ‘debacle’ we know as the Corrib gas project started. Local people were ignored. Their rights were cast aside and the Government of the day became the dancing partner of big business. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were willing jivers, crossroads or not. The compromised Green Party had two left feet so they allowed the main party and corporate Ireland to dance a jig around the people of north Mayo. This is the basis for the democratic deficit that permeates the Corrib gas project.
The Government changed the law to facilitate private companies to ‘trespass’ on people’s land. Local people were jailed for ‘contempt’ because they refused land access to Shell representatives. There was never a question raised about the morality of bringing in such a law. A person became guilty if s/he broke the law, regardless of the actual morality of the law itself.
Some years later, the law was broken by Shell representatives who trespassed on commonage. No one was sent to jail. Why not? That is a question that Corrib apologists have yet to answer.
While Shell receives a fair share of criticism for its handling of the Corrib project, the real culprits are successive Governments who have allowed the project to trundle on. Any instance of the project being forced to engage in further consultation or a deeper examination of its engineering or safety proposals have come about because of opposition by local people. The ongoing local resistance to the project has shamed it into becoming a safer project but not, according to many local people, a safe project.
What would happen if gas was found in Clew Bay and it was proposed to bring it ashore up the Belclare River and transport the raw gas by pipe through Belclare, Rosmalley, Rosbeg and the Quay to a refinery site near the Golf Club across from the Point? Would there be an outcry? Would people have a right to protest that a 345 bar pressure raw gas pipe (without a smell) could cross their land without their consent? That was the original proposal, unique in the world. The pressure has been reduced through protest.
People in the parish affected by the Corrib project are supported by their local priests, especially Fr Michael Nallen. They give their people a voice. They stand up, like good shepherds, informing authorities that the project, as proposed, does not allay local people’s concerns.