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30 June 2005 Edition

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Outrage as Corrib protestors are jailed

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

There was outrage and disgust yesterday afternoon when the High Court in Dublin jailed five of the Mayo people engaged in a four-year battle to stop a Shell-led consortium robbing our natural resources — with no benefit to the Irish people.

The protestors are demanding a proper evaluation of the risks to their community of the consortium's plans, which include running a huge raw gas pipeline in front of their houses and across their land, when Minister Noel Dempsey's own evaluation of the safety aspects of the unknown technology is incomplete.

The consortium, including Marathon and the Norwegian Statoil, intends to try out, for the first time ever, a raw gas refining plant on shore in bogland at Ballinaboy. The plant will be nine kilometres in from the sea, coming ashore on one of Ireland's most beautiful beaches — an environmentally protected area. Up to now, the established custom has been to process at sea and to only draw in the cleaned and processed gas at reasonably low pressures.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris slammed the decision to lock up the five men, who have been attempting to halt the laying of the potentially dangerous high-pressure gas line through their lands. He has called for the immediate release of the five men and a complete halt to all work at the site until an independent safety assessment has been carried out and published.

President of the High Court, Justice Finnegan, sent Philip McGrath, James Philbin, Willie Corduff, Vincent McGraph and Mícheál Ó Seighin to jail for breach of a High Court injunction in April not to obstruct the multinational oil giant's contractors digging to place the pipeline across their lands and houses. Each of the defendants made powerful personal statements refusing to give assurances that they would not obstruct work on their lands.

Each declared his refusal to purge contempt or undertake to abide by the order Shell got from the High Court, in face of Judge Finnegan's threats that if they didn't they would be committed to jail and their assets seized.

They pointed out that the Minister's consent had still not been given for the use of the pipelines; that there was still no independent Health and Safety report prepared, which is required by law before the pipeline can be used. They further assert that once the pipeline is installed, the bogland of the farmers will be irreparably damaged.

To the disgust of the packed courtroom, the judge awarded costs to Shell, against the five Mayo men and their families, whose total combined assets, of old cars, houses, and a few acres of land, which installation of the Shell pipeline will rob of any useful value, amount to no more than an invisible fraction of the daily turnover of Shell.

"I condemn this decision in the strongest possible terms. These men have legitimate concerns regarding the threat to safety that this pipeline may pose," said Ferris.

The campaigners want Noel Dempsey to explain why the Fianna Fáil/PD Government has allowed the national resource of gas at Corrib to be given away with no apparent gain for the Irish nation, and severe environmental hazards to local people.

Denny Larson, an expert in Shell's adventures around the world, believes it is a dirty and dangerous process in an environmentally highly sensitive area. He says the technology does not yet exist to carry out such work safely and that the Corrib plan amounts to experimentation with the lives and safety of North Mayo inhabitants. Shell wants to test this technology because it may reduce its capital costs by €360 million and its operating costs by 40% per annum.

Pádraig Campbell, of SIPTU's Offshore Committee, who has worked on many of the consortium exploration rigs off Ireland's West Coast, says the 'deal' that Fianna Fáil, and their notoriously corrupt Minister Ray Burke, first lobbied for in 1985, was finalised by Bertie Ahern's government in 1992.

It gave away the national rights to this huge gas reserve, (estimated between three and seven trillion cubic feet of gas), at a minimum taxation rate of 25%, all of which could be written off against costs, with zero royalties and an agreement that Bord Gais would finance the pipeline from Ballinaboy to the grid and interconnector.

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