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O'Toole responds to Gerry Gregg

Fintan O'Toole

I would invite anyone interested in this issue to do two things before making up their minds. The first is to view Gerry Gregg's extraordinary documentary on the Corrib conflict. The very fact that it is presented by Paul Williams, whose regular beat is writing sensational crime stories for The News of the World, says a lot. The issue is framed from the start as one of organised criminality, on a par with Williams's usual stories about Fat Freddy and the like. Its entire thrust is that Corrib is essentially a law and order issue and that the only protests against Shell and the Government come from sinister elements on the extreme fringes of republican terrorism. Thus, Maura Harrington is the "pin-up girl of every sect of the republican movement and is supported by republican Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Continuity IRA. Sinn Féin and its four TDs also seek her affections; Eirigí, the apologists for the Real IRA are among her biggest fans", while anyone speaking in favour of the project is introduced as popular and principled. Extraordinary statements, like the claim by a Shell representative that a person living near the pipeline would be "100,000 times more likely to be killed by lightning" than he or she would be likely to be killed by an explosion caused by any rupture in the pipeline " are presented as unchallenged fact. While breaches of the law by protestors are (rightly) highlighted, no reference at all is made to the multiple breaches of Irish and European law (from trespass, to the building of unauthorised structures to contempt of court) by Shell and the Government.  
Oddly, Williams and Gregg are far more convinced that the issue is essentially one pf law and order than the Garda chief superintendent who actually ran the policing operation until recently. Tony McNamara told The Irish Times that the problem is rooted in a “fundamental breakdown in trust” and “Eventually, dialogue will have to provide the solution to the Corrib gas dilemma.”  

The second thing I would ask people to do is to actually read the column that Gregg complains of. You will find that, leaving aside all the bluster and distraction, it makes five relatively uncontentious points: that the safety concerns of the locals were not perverse; that Shell and the Government (as both now admit) approached the issue in a high-handed and confrontational way; that the Garda then got sucked in to the policing of protests in a way that inevitably placed them on the side of Shell; that the terms under which Shell got control of the gas-field (essentially free) are unacceptable and that the issue is at heart a political one which can only be resolved by the dialogue and compromise which Eamon Ryan has a duty to instigate.  
Gerry Gregg, for all his bluster, is unable to take issue with any of these five contentions. The only point he actually contests is An Bord Pleanala's objections to the planned pipeline route. I think readers can decide for themselves whether the Bord's independent view that the risk posed to locals is "unacceptable" is simply, as Gregg suggests, a matter of optics.  
For the record, I am not, as one contributor suggests "a member of Shell to Sea". I have spoken at two public meetings -- once to defend the Rossport Five whose jailing even Shell now accepts was an appalling escalation of the conflict. I have also spoken against the giveaway terms that the Government gives to exploration companies like Shell. Readers can check for themselves that I wrote about this issue long before the Corrib question ever arose. I make no apology for finding it outrageous that the proceeds from the Corrib filed will build schools and hospitals in Norway (whose State oil company has a stake in the field) while Irish citizens will get nothing other than the opportunity to buy the gas at market prices.