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Building up the gas pressure by Liamy MacNally

The pressure is mounting on several fronts with the Corrib gas project. Further court hearings pending, mediation broken down, tempers rising, and nasty little incidents occurring. Resolving what is, essentially, the same problem that existed from day one appears to be fraught with even more difficulties.
Days before the Rossport Five were incarcerated, phone lines to the west were red hot with PR executive voices trying to find out if the men from north Mayo were adamant about going to jail. Some people could not read the signs. What followed was a PR disaster for Shell, the Government and Mayo County Council. It was also a period of intense pain and anger for many decent people in this county. The law was broken, principles remained intact. Sometimes the law can be an ass.
The Corrib drama
It is important to remember that five men spent 94 days in jail. That took guts, whether one agrees with their stance or not. Regardless of the obvious pressure from Government and other bodies urging communities to apply for a gas supply, glaring questions remain. Why change the criteria for receiving a supply now? Is it another way of shrouding the health and safety issues associated with this project? Is it like attacking Iraq when the bombers came from Saudi Arabia? Diverting attention from the reality of a situation is dishonest.
The reality is that nothing has changed for those who oppose the present Corrib gas configuration. Yet the ‘Corrib at any price’ supporters are all gathering in the wings waiting for the curtain to be raised for the next act in this long running drama.
It looks like the gathering of the masses, well orchestrated and all part of a vast choreograph of the willing. What they have not admitted to themselves, as of yet, is that they are being led by the unknown, or should that be, the unknowing? This great surge of acquiescence - ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ - is en route to the wilderness. It is an exodus into the endless desert of the unfamiliar.
After a period of relative calm the Government, dressed in the reeds of democracy, is learning its lines alongside its regular stage partners. The make-up is on and the scene is set. Even the gardaí are waiting in the wings, or is it permissible to say or think that? For those who cannot wait for the next act to be played out, the ending will be the same as the last act unless the lines are seriously re-written by the scriptwriters, who are Shell and Minister Dempsey.
The Advantica report on the safety of certain aspects of the upstream pipeline is ready. This is the same pipeline Shell believed in so much that it was willing to consign five Irish citizens to jail for 94 days. This pipeline has already been decimated in the draft Advantica report, published before Christmas. After all the brouhaha about the safety of this pipeline from Shell, successive Ministers, Government Departments, Advantica has consigned it to the scrap-heap. All the safety calls for this 345 bar pressure pipeline have been answered in one sentence of the report – reduce the pressure in the pipeline to less than 150 bar pressure. Was this done to appease people who have opposed this pipeline on health and safety grounds? Was it hell! This was stated by the Advantica team because they believe it to be unsafe. Previous pipeline reports have worn thin the threads of credibility surrounding its safety claims.
Credibility is a word that has been beaten, battered and bruised in this Corrib debate. With the freeing of the Rossport Five one would have expected that talks would have started promptly through the Government-appointed mediator. There was plenty of recent activity with the visit of Shell non-executive directors from the company’s Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) to north Mayo and Leinster House. Given Shell’s history of its handling of the Corrib project, the irony of the committee’s name is not lost on people.
Granted, Shell inherited seriously damaged goods from Enterprise Energy Ireland Ltd. Rather than try to overcome the major flaws associated with the Corrib project, Shell went full steam ahead and made a bad situation not just worse but impossible through its insolence. Incompetence, fuelled by sheer arrogance, evolved into an international embarrassment for a company familiar with bad press. Unfortunately, the longer this drama lasts, innocent Shell personnel also suffer. There is no excuse for the verbal abuse of Shell staff, trespassing or interfering with drains, with the potential to affect water quality. No ‘battle’ is worth stooping low for, especially after the principled stand taken by the five men.
How ironic that the first official talks between the mediator, Peter Cassells, and the Rossport Five, were scheduled on the very day that Shell SRC directors were around. How also very ironic that the very moment the meeting was in progress the Marine Minister, Noel Dempsey, addressed the Dáil and stated that consultations between the mediator and the Rossport Five would last one month. No one had bothered to tell the Rossport Five. The Minister was subsequently forced to admit that he had spoken out of turn and meant to say ‘months’ rather than ‘month’. At least Peter Cassells had the gumption, on meeting the Rossport Five, to open his discussions with an apology for asking the men to meet Shell on the same day. Any invitation should have emanated from Shell, who also failed to invite some of the consenting as well as non-consenting landowners to meet the visiting directors. It is this kind of nonsense, perpetrated time and time again on the people of north Mayo, that deepens the suspicion that Shell is not even vaguely interested in respecting the ‘good neighbour’ mantra they have bleated for years. Then Minister Dempsey compounds difficulties with his statement that Mr Cassells would also be examining services, especially a gas supply, to the west.
Nothing has changed since the Rossport Five were freed. Nothing, that is, associated with the essence of the project. Only the form of the pressure has changed. That pressure includes Ireland’s threatened energy supply, claims that increasing costs make the project more un-viable (no mention that gas prices have increased 100% over the past five years or Shell’s €19 billion profit last year) and relaxing criteria for gas supplies to towns. All this creates undue pressure for this project to be completed speedily rather than properly. It is hard to take them seriously. Most people want the gas ashore. The only criterion is safety. No courtroom can guarantee safety. The road to truth has too many turn-offs, usually on to the paths of lawyers, the only winners. God help us.$showpage?value1=3348297213773276

Posted Date: 
20 February 2006 - 11:17pm