23 June 2005 Edition

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Mayo farmers take on Big Oil in David and Goliath battle

BY Matt Treacy

Shelltosea held a press conference in Dublin on Monday in support of the seven Mayo farmers currently under High Court injunction as a result of their refusal to allow the Corrib Gas consortium of Shell, Statoil and Marathon to lay a pipeline across part of their land. The group later protested outside Shell's Dublin headquarters and handed letters in to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and to the Norwegian Ambassador, pointing out the failure of the Norwegian state company Statoil to comply with conditions that would apply in their own country.

Maura Harrington of Shelltosea chaired the conference and pointed out that the official depiction of the farmers as 'Luddites' opposed to development, or as trying to extract higher compensation from Shell, was inaccurate. The farmers were objecting on the basis that the absence of an independent review of the proposal means that their concerns over health and safety are not being addressed.

Maura referred to the fact that the review commissioned by the Department was carried out by the British Pipeline Agency, which was quickly discovered to be jointly owned by Shell and BP! When Martin Ferris asked Minister Noel Dempsey about this, the Minister claimed that his officials only became aware of the fact when asked by journalists. Just another indication of the incompetence, and worse, that governs this state's cosy relationship with the oil and gas multinationals.

Willie Corduff, one of the farmers under the court order, referred to their sense of place. "As far as we are concerned we are being driven out. There is no way we will leave but there is no way we can live there with the pipeline." He also emphasised the fact that Shell's own report proves that the pipeline does not even measure up to US guidelines. When challenged, Shell employees were refusing to state by what authority they were intruding on his land. Asked about those landowners who had agreed to allow the pipeline on their land, Willie said that they had been under the impression that Bord Gáis would be the responsible party.

Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor, publishers of an annual report on Shell's activities worldwide, said that he had come to Mayo to support the community there and that he was convinced that the Corrib project was not safe. Sr Majella McCarron, who was involved in the campaign against the execution of the Ogoni anti-Shell activist Ken Saro Wiwa, referred to a poster on one of the farms in Mayo which read: "Nigeria 1995 — Rossport 2005". She also noted the irony of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs inviting an activist from the Niger Basin to a conference in Dublin at the very same time as the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is fully behind Shell in Mayo.

Pádraig Campbell, of the SIPTU oil workers' branch, told of his dealings with the exploration companies and how they had excluded Irish rig workers so that no-one would know what was going on in relation to their drilling. Rig workers had supplied information on false reporting by the companies, including from the Corrib Field, and SIPTU had passed that to the relevant Departments but nothing was done about it. The situation, therefore, remains, that the DMCNR are totally dependent on whatever the companies choose to tell them.

The seriousness of this, from the point of view of Irish natural resources, is that while Wood MacKenzie estimate that the Corrib field contains reserves worth billions of Euro, that Shell and its partners have complete control over it. Instead of using that potential in the interests of the Irish people, the state will be buying the gas back at full market value and facilitating the export of the gas, and the outsourcing of whatever employment it brings. As Campbell pointed out, all of this can mainly be traced back to the "antediluvian deal" agreed with the multinationals by the corrupt former Minister Ray Burke, whose role in that has not been subject to the same scrutiny as his part in land and other scandals.

Mícheál Shine described the pipeline and the other facilities that are part of the project as enjoying "Guantanamo status", as they are effectively parts of Irish territory that have been handed over to the control of a foreign consortium. He also highlighted the absurdity of a situation where the land through which the pipeline is to be laid is under a foreshore license, even though the land in Rossport is 9km from the actual landfall.

As Willie Corduff said, time is running out. Shell have won their injunctions and it is only a matter of time before they proceed unless pressure can be put to have the entire project reviewed, and for the Dublin Government to live up to its responsibility to protect Irish natural resources. Republican activists should be raising this issue wherever possible and making clear their support for the farmers who are under legal threat. And while we might expect nothing better from Shell, pressure should be applied on the Norwegian state company Statoil by bringing their role in this to the attention of Norwegian activists.

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