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New Corrib book poses serious questions on gas issue

Áine Ryan IT’S hardly surprising that Jacinta Healy was a leading activist at the outset of the protracted Corrib gas campaign. Her house is closest to the site of the proposed refinery at Bellanaboy bridge. However, while over the fraught years of the controversy, the mother-of-four has represented all 16 families in the area, she is no longer on the frontline of the row that continues to bedevil the isolated north Mayo communities living in its wake. “Most of the residents have families and small children and there comes a point where you have to step back because every other part of your family will fall apart if you don’t,” she explains in Michael McCaughan’s new book, ‘The Price of our Souls: Gas, Shell and Ireland’. Ms Healy also reveals that – despite rumours that she, and others, were ‘bought off’ by Shell – she will never support the project. “You couldn’t – it has knocked too much out of you. You live with it because you can’t lay down and die.” She adds emphatically that if Shell was to offer her €5 million to go on Mid West Radio and say she supported the project 100 per cent, she wouldn’t do it. Another voice, expressed in the Foreword to Mr McCaughan’s book, launched in Dublin last Friday, is that of Imelda Moran. Speaking on behalf of the Friends of Rossport and addressing the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) oral hearing last May, she observed: “We the indigenous people, are entitled to retain our quality of life and environment against threat from remote, faceless shareholders whose sole concern is profit and self-interest.” She continued: “Yet devious means are employed to usher through this project whereby disclosure of crucial information is denied to us by use of those gaps, loopholes and grey areas which are such a consistent feature of our legislation.” One grey area – the subject of project-splitting – is given particular attention by Michael McCaughan, an acclaimed journalist who has written extensively on Latin America. He writes: “To make it easier to get government approval for the Corrib gas project, the gas company divided its application into several stages, applying for permission for one component as it waited approval for another aspect.” The author notes that this strategy is prohibited under EU law and has been strongly criticised by local campaigners. He also firmly places the project’s chequered history in the context of Shell’s worldwide operations. Referring to an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper on November 7 last, he observes that in another difficult year for Shell’s image, its safety standards had once again been seriously denounced – at the behest of a whistleblower who claimed that safety standards were repeatedly breached on offshore rigs. It also reported that from 1999 until 2007, the British Health and Safety Executive had issued 42 formal notices to Shell to improve safety. He also refers to a landmark case taken by the Heyd family in Louisiana regarding groundwater contamination of lands they had leased to the company over a 50-year period. Notwithstanding the fact that Shell fought the case, at every turn, they were found guilty of every charge and ordered to pay $51 million in 2000. In this book, Michael McCaughan captures the complexity of the Corrib gas controversy and translates it – for both the initiated and the uninitiated – into a simple, human tale of community struggle in the teeth of the odds. The unpretentious style and layout of ‘The Price of our Souls’, however, does not deflect from the gravity of its political message. Moreover, the author is realistic about the successes of public relations spin which deem the campaign as isolated and extremist. He is unflinching in his thesis that that the movement must now address this public perception that protests are dominated by ‘outsiders’ spoiling for a fight. He also warns that Ireland is gripped in a fever of extreme conservativism despite a history of support for social justice. McCaughan concludes that, at a time when the State now believes the issue is under control, forms of action that would have mass appeal must be considered in order to win back ‘decisive national support’. ‘The Price of our Souls: Gas, Shell and Ireland’, by Michael McCaughan, is on sale in bookshops throughout County Mayo. Published by Afri (Action from Ireland), it costs €10.

Posted Date: 
3 January 2008 - 1:59pm