By Alfred Donovan
On Friday 7th April the “Rossport 5” were back in court before the President of the Irish High Court, Mr Justice Finnegan.
The “Rossport Five” – brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff, Michael O Seighin and Brendan Philbin became national heroes in Ireland after being jailed for contempt of court in June 2005 at the behest of Shell, which obtained compulsory purchase orders for land in relation to the laying of the Corrib gas pipeline.
This was the first time in Irish history that such an order was granted to a private company. It was intended that the five landowners/protestors would remain in jail until they undertook not to interfere with construction of the pipeline.
The men were however released at the end of September 2005 after Shell management made a spectacular u-turn and applied to have the temporary injunction lifted. Shell acted in the face of what had become a major public relations disaster with thousands of Irish citizens participating in street protests.
Protests against the jailing were also mounted in the UK and the Netherlands.
Although Shell had not asked for costs, Mr Justice Finnegan insisted on making an order that the Rossport Five should pay all legal costs. Comments made by the Judge in previous hearings relating to the same case seemed to display a degree of bias in favour of Shell. This decision in my view confirms suspicions about his lack of impartiality.
On the one hand we have five courageous ordinary Irish citizens and on the other, the Irish Establishment (including the judiciary) and a multinational oil giant making obscene profits of almost £1.5 million an hour. The Rossport Five are understandably short of funds after being imprisoned for three months while Shell is awash with billions due to record high oil prices.
The appallingly unfair decision in view of these background circumstances gives Shell extra leverage at a time when independent mediation is supposedly underway between the company and the Rossport Five.
It has happened at a time when The Centre for Public Inquiry has been forced to cease operations (just a few days ago) after probing the Irish governments’ role in granting permission for the Corrib pipeline on terms overly favourable to the consortium led by Shell i.e. terms contrary to the interests of ordinary Irish citizens. One of the objectives of the non-profit making organisation was to expose corruption.
It is a murky tale but my money is still on the opponents of the pipeline who are well organised and absolutely determined to fight for a cause they believe in – right over might.
It is salient to note that Shell is acquiring a reputation for having its opponents jailed.
It is understood that Shell lawyers have confirmed that the EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell companies which are collectively suing a Shell whistleblower, Dr John Huong, for defamation, are pressing forward with contempt proceedings against him seeking that he be jailed or fined.
Since Dr Huong has no funds, it seems inevitable that he too will end up in jail. At least he would have time to write a revealing book about Shell. As a former employee (a geologist) for 29 years, Dr Huong knows a great deal about Shell senior management misdeeds, including the reserves scandal which destroyed Shell’s reputation. It should be an interesting read.
The defamation action is related to articles about Shell published on RoyalDutchShellplc.com and an associated website in accordance with Dr Huong’s basic right to freedom of expression.