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Shell's contempt court challenge adjourned

By: 
LORNA SIGGINS - Irish Times

A DISTRICT Court judge who recently ruled that Shell E&P Ireland was in contempt of court has agreed to adjourn an application to clarify the case in the High Court.

At a sitting of Westport District Court in Co Mayo yesterday, Judge Mary Devins allowed time for legal representatives of Shell E&P Ireland and Monica Muller of Rossport South to agree on wording of issues to be clarified.

Judge Devins last month found Shell to be in contempt of a District Court order issued in November 2007 prohibiting the company from carrying out exploratory works on the Rossport commonage in north Mayo.

That order was made after Ms Muller and other shareholders in the Rossport commonage claimed they had not been served with proper notice of Shell’s intention to conduct site investigations on the common land.

Ms Muller is one of 62 shareholders in the Rossport commonage, which is on the modified route for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline.

Shell subsequently acquired a share in the commonage, but did not seek to vacate the November 2007 court order.

John Gordon, counsel for Shell, informed Judge Devins yesterday that the company intended to apply to vacate that order in Belmullet District Court on October 14th.

This was one of three conditions set by Judge Devins on September 4th last, when she found the company in contempt.

Mr Gordon also told Judge Devins that the other two conditions in relation to a donation and costs had also been accepted by his client.

A donation of €3,000 had been made to An Taisce’s planning unit and there were “active negotiations” with Ms Muller’s legal representative in relation to costs.

Mr Gordon said his client took “the findings of contempt of court very seriously” and believed that the applicant and others “may rely on this judgment into the future”. He cited two key questions.

These were: “Can an order of the District Court pursuant to section 26 (4) of the Gas Act, 1976 (as amended), operate to prohibit a co-owner of lands from entering on to such lands as co-owner?”

Also, “Did the order made on November 14th, 2007, prohibit any entry whatsoever on to the commonage lands by the respondent?”

Judge Devins said it suggested to her that the High Court opinion was being sought in a “very wide way” and had no relevance.

Mr Gordon however argued that if the High Court responded in a “negative way” to either of the questions, the finding of contempt of court “must fall”.

Mairéad Casey, for Ms Muller, said the central point was that the respondents were in contempt of court for breaching a court order.

She argued that the original court order of November 2007 had never been vacated, even after Shell acquired a share in the commonage.

After several adjournments, Judge Devins agreed to adjourn the application to refer the case to the High Court for clarification. The case was set for mention in Ballina District Court on October 27th.

Shell E&P Ireland’s application to vacate the original court order will come before Belmullet District Court next week.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times