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Wake up call for Fianna Fail

From the Sunday Business Post 14 August 2005 By Niamh Connolly Sinn Féin appears to be reaping rewards from its campaign against the Corrib gas terminal in Mayo. A local newspaper opinion poll shows a jump in support for the party from 3 per cent to 11 per cent - though Fianna Fáil disputes the findings.Support for the main government party has fallen from 40 per cent to 16 per cent, according to last week's Mayo Echo poll, carried out by Durkan Market Research.In a general election, such a result could leave Fianna Fáil's official and unofficial TDs, John Carty and Beverley Flynn, fighting it out for the last seat with Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray.

While the poll indicates anti-government sentiment in Mayo, there is some scepticism about local newspaper polls, especially since the Meath Chronicle was proved spectacularly inaccurate in its by-election predictions for Fianna Fáil last March.But if the Mayo findings were repeated in a general election, it would result in an unprecedented collapse in the Fianna Fáil vote.The poll was carried out before the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, instructed Shell to dismantle the onshore pipeline which was constructed without consent. It also took place directly after the announcement of IRA decommissioning.Durkan interviewed 629 people in 10 locations across the county, which market sources believe is a reasonable sample for a 111,000 population. Undecideds made up 19 per cent of the total, and there was a margin of error of 4 per cent.But a 4 per cent margin could be crucial to the three candidates predicted to be fighting for the last two seats, since final transfers will dictate the outcome in a general election.Fianna Fáil has criticised the poll on the grounds that it took place before the party's selection conventions, and it listed candidates who may not be running.The party also believes there was an anti-government bias in the poll, which included a question on the Shell to Sea campaign, supported by 87 per cent of those surveyed.Tom Durkan, head of Durkan Market Research, said that while the selection conventions had not taken place, the company had carried out its own research on likely candidates. He said the ballot on party support preceded questions on the Shell campaign to avoid accusations of bias.The Galway-based company in operation for two years, is used by larger polling companies such as MRBI for surveys in the west.The poll found a transfer pattern from independent TD Jerry Crowley and Fine Gael deputy Michael Ring to Sinn Féin's Gerry Murray, who supports the Rossport Five, the five local men who remain in jail for refusing to obey a High Court order relating to the Shell pipeline.Fine Gael party leader Enda Kenny gains at the expense of Ring, but some of the gains were made in the east Mayo bailiwick of Jim Higgins, who will not be standing in 2007.Sinn Féin's support rose by 8 per cent to 11 per cent over its 2002 general election result, reflecting a trend revealed in last week's Sunday Business Post/Red C opinion poll in the wake of the IRA announcement.Cowley, who topped the Mayo Echo poll, cautioned that opinion polls were only a snapshot in time, but few doubt that Fianna Fáil is in disarray in Mayo. The party's showing would have been influenced, not only by Beverley Flynn's new independent status, but by local bitterness towards the recent crackdown on her support base by party headquarters.Fianna Fáil headquarters were sceptical of the results, but said they confirmed the need to copper-fasten the reorganisation of local cumainn before selecting candidates.The party is split over the issue, with its Mayo councillors supporting the Shell to Sea campaign against government policy. Kenny opposes the campaign, with Ring breaking ranks on the question.There was some surprise at the extent of the gain by Murray. The former Fianna Fáil councillor topped the poll for Sinn Féin in Swinford last year, having switched allegiance in 2001.Local sources describe the councillor as a grafter on local issues, such as the privatisation of water schemes and waste management services before the Rossport Five hit the headlines. Sinn Féin hopes to make political gains nationally over the Shell controversy, with senior party figures Gerry Adams and Dáil TDMartin Ferris having a presence on the Shell to Sea marches. One of the five men imprisoned, schoolteacher Miceál Ó Seighin, was a spokesman for Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh in last year's local elections.But if the Shell gas pipeline is becoming a hot potato for the government, the Shell to Sea campaign is equally falling prey to political spin and counter-spin. Murray rejected claims that Sinn Féin was hijacking the Rossport Five campaign for its own political ends.“I would resent any attempt to project this in the direction of a hijack by Sinn Féin,” said Murray.“This campaign is being led by the families. Any political party that wants to pledge its support of the Shell to Sea campaign at any public meeting can do so. Party affiliations have nothing to do with the issue in hand.”There was speculation this weekend that Siptu chiefs were growing concerned about the union's involvement in the Shell to Sea campaign. But Siptu oil rig workers' representative Padhraig Campbell blamed “mischief-making'‘ by parties that oppose the campaign.“I'm not involved in Sinn Féin, and would consider myself on the green side of Labour, though my father, who was a solicitor in Galway, would have been from a Republican background and was in Sinn Féin years back,” said Campbell.The Siptu representative is also chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Natural Resources, a body that includes independent deputies Jerry Cowley and Joe Higgins, the Green Party's Eamon Ryan and Siptu's oil rig branch chairman Joe O'Toole.“Of course there will be people trying to make out a conspiracy,” said Campbell.“But this campaign includes anyone that supports the Rossport Five's case for moving Shell to sea, no matter what party they're from.“This is a non-party-political banner. It's a local campaign, not some conspiratorial Shinners' campaign, the way some people are spinning it'‘.Siptu president Jack O'Connor dismissed any suggestion of concern about the local union's position on Shell to Sea.“There is a public safety issue here, and there does seem to me to be merit in the Shell to Sea campaign in relation to the terms of reference of the safety review. It would be better to err on the side of caution. Suggestions that I disapprove of the involvement of Padhraig Campbell would be untrue,” O'Connor said.Claims that local people had been laid off due to Shell's decision to suspend work on the onshore gas terminal to allow time for public consultation, were unfounded, according to Campbell.“We cannot find any local people who were laid off, because they were not working on the project.“The large proportion of the subcontracted workers, mostly Scottish and Italian workers, have been redeployed to other jobs,” he said.Campbell and Murray may not be in the same party, but they are certainly singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to criticising Fianna Fáil's deals on tax reliefs and royalty exemptions for exploration companies.“Ireland has a huge resource-based industry worth billions lasting for decades, and Siptu sees this campaign in terms of gaining maximum economic return with maximum safety,” said Campbell.In 1985, Fianna Fáil's Ray Burke significantly modified an agreement that guaranteed the state a national stake and financial return from any commercially successful find.In 1975, Labour minister Justin Keating gave the state the right to a 50 per cent stake plus royalties of 6 to 7 per cent in any commercially successful find, and imposed a 50 per cent tax on the companies.Burke abandoned the government stake against the advice of his department and abolished payment of royalties. In 1992, intense lobbying by the oil companies led to a lower tax rate of 25 per cent under then Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern. The tax could be written off against commercial costs over the previous 25 years, including costs incurred on work in other jurisdictions. ‘Frontier licences' were introduced, allowing oil companies to hold drilling licences for up to 20 years.Consultants Wood McKenzie, in a report in the late 1990s, estimated that Corrib and surrounding areas had gas reserves of between five and seven trillion cubic feet, worth about €22 billion in current prices.The Irish Offshore Operators' Association says the tax arrangements are essential to maintain exploration interest in Irish waters, owing to the poor exploitation record to date.

Posted Date: 
21 August 2006 - 1:08am