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Martin Ferris TD highlights Corrib failure in debate on Foreshore Bill

This Bill is to be welcomed if it ensures that the process of granting Foreshore licenses and in dealing with dumping at sea is tightened up. As it stands there are a number of issues that have caused concern, particularly in relation to the Foreshore licenses.

The case that immediately springs to mind is the controversy over the granting of the Foreshore license to the companies involved in the Corrib gas project. That was granted in May 2002 by then Minister responsible Frank Fahey just prior to the general election. There has been no indication that a proper consultation process was followed in that regard. Also in relation to the Corrib project there is the issue of the sale of Bellanaboy Wood to Shell for the construction of the terminal. The sum paid was not disclosed and all requests from myself and others including Freedom of Information requests to to have the sum paid to Coillte for Bellanaboy Wood made public have been refused.

The foreshore is defined as the area between the high water mark and the 12 mile sea limit and yet the pipeline to be laid at Rossport, prior to the recent decision of An Bord Pleanala to request that it be re-routed, was nine kilometres from the landfall of the pipeline coming onshore. Again, it would appear that Departmental officials or the Minister responsible simply made the decision without any real reference to the broader issues at stake and certainly without any consultation with anyone outside of the companies involved.

Section 12 of this Bill gives the Minister for Environment the power to nominate bodies to submit observations on applications for licenses. I have submitted an amendment to this section setting out specifically that the consultation process also involve relevant local groups with a proven interest in the area for which the license has been applied for. This could include for example local fishermen and others with an economic interest in the foreshore or representative local groups with concerns around the environmental impact and safety issues.

Again returning to the foreshore license granted for the Corrib project, that was a process that was not followed with the result that whatever the overall issues, there was from the very beginning an atmosphere of mistrust and a feeling on the part of local communities that something that will have a massive impact on them was going ahead without any input from themselves.

It is also important that when a major project such as Corrib involving the oil and gas reserves that lie off our coast are involved in the granting of a Foreshore license that the criteria for examining the merit of the proposal also take into account other than the strictly environmental issues.

For example the economic impact and consequences of any proposal involving our mineral natural resources ought also to be examined which would involve consultation with independent experts in the field who would be able to provide an unbiased opinion on the likely benefits in terms of local employment but also with regard to the likely national economic benefits or otherwise in terms of the revenue likely to be earned from any such project.

Had such criteria been applied to the Corrib proposal there might well have been a different outcome. Indeed in his report rejecting the application in 2002, Inspector Kevin Moore of An Bord Pleanala did refer to the economic aspects of the proposal and claimed that the proposal did not fit in with the need for balanced and sustainable regional development, including in its economic aspects.