By John Donovan
In December 2005 we published an article containing the following paragraph:
It appears that extremely powerful forces are at work and one wonders where the intrigue will lead in relation to the Corrib pipeline. Will “THE GREAT CORRIB GAS CONTROVERSY” turn into something even bigger – a full blown scandal?
We made the comment in the knowledge that the Irish government has a reputation for corruption and over a number of years gave concessions to the Corrib pipeline consortium which many people believe were not in the best interests of the Irish people.
Developments today increase the suspicion that corruption robbed ordinary Irish people of a valuable national resource, given away for a pittance to greedy multinational giants. Royal Dutch Shell, the major stakeholder in the Corrib project, has a track record of being involved in bribery and corruption.
The following are extracts from an article published by The Times earlier today: –
Bertie Ahern, Ireland’s long-serving Taoiseach, abruptly announced his resignation today amid continuing controversy over his personal financial affairs.
He said his resignation was the result of a constant barrage of allegations about his personal finances.
One of his mentors was the disgraced late prime minister Charles Haughey, who took millions from businessmen but called Mr Ahern the “most cunning, the most ruthless, the most devious of them all.”
Mr Ahern had been expected to come under pressure to day to explain a glaring contradiction in evidence he gave to the Mahon Tribunal in February when he claimed that he had never dealt in sterling.
His former secretary admitted to the Tribunal last week that she lodged more than £15,000 into accounts held by him and his two daughters in 1994.
But the man known as the “Teflon Taoiseach” was adamant today that he had nothing to fear from a continuing probe into his finances by a tribunal into planning-related corruption.
A Wikipedia article entitled the “Corrib gas controversy” provides information about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the role of certain controversial Irish notables, including Bertie Ahern, in relation to planning consent and associated matters.Â
The following are extracts: –
In 1987, in a move described by Dick Spring as “economic treason” , Fianna Fáil Minister for Energy Ray Burke ended all state involvement in oil and gas exploration . In 1992, then Minister for Finance (now Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern extended licensing terms for oil and gas companies, abolished royalties from Irish fields, and drastically reduced the tax rate for exploration companies to the lowest in the world. This prompted a director of Statoil to remark: “No country in the world gives as favourable terms to oil and gas companies as Ireland.”  The World Bank puts Ireland at the top (in the “very favourable” category) of its index of countries ranked by how congenial their laws are to oil and gas companies, followed by Pakistan and Argentina. Nigeria, where the influence of the oil companies on government policy has been a source of much controversy, only ranks as “average”.
In 2002, planning permission for a proposed refinery in County Mayo was refused unequivocally by Senior Planning Inspector Kevin Moore, of An Bord Pleanala (the Irish planning authority). His report stated: “From a strategic planning perspective, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of Government policy which seeks to foster balanced regional development, this is the wrong site; from the perspective of minimising environmental impact, this is the wrong site; and consequently, from the perspective of sustainable development, this is the wrong site, and that it posed a threat to “a sensitive and scenic environment”.
In an unprecedented subversion of the planning process, then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources Frank Fahey told the media that this refusal was “just a hitch” . He was backed by local Fine Gael TD (now leader of that party) Enda Kenny, but opposed by another local TD (also from Fine Gael), Michael Ring. An Bord Pleanala had asked Shell to examine the less profitable option of refining the gas at sea. This was not done. Planning permission was not required for the onshore pipeline as, uniquely, the Irish government decided to classify it as an offshore development.
In 2003 senior executives from Shell sought, and were given, an interview with Ahern, who was now Taoiseach, and other Irish government ministers. Within a week, Ahern met with the board of An Bord Pleanala, who are appointed by the government. The board quickly decided to ignore its inspector’s report, and planning permission was granted soon after. Not long before, a huge landslide swept away the whole surface area of a mountain close to the intended pipeline route.
In 2005, Ray Burke was jailed for six months for tax evasion. Burke is currently under scrutiny from the Mahon Tribunal for, among other things, payments he received from Rennicks Ltd.. Rennicks Ltd. is associated with businessman Tony O’Reilly, who secured many offshore licenses from Burke and Fianna Fáil in the 1980s. Bertie Ahern’s irregular financial affairs during his tenure as Minister for Finance are also being examined by the tribunal. Like his former party leader Charlie Haughey, Frank Fahey has repeatedly failed to explain adequately the source of the wealth that has allowed him to build up an extensive international property and business portfolio.
The Corrib project has faced long term protest activity from the Shell to Sea Campaign.
Shell’s reputation was badly damaged after it had five Irish landowners jailed for several months after they refused to let Shell have access to their property to lay a pipeline. They became known as “The Rossport Five”. Shell management lost face after it sought the release of the protesters and in the process, had to issue an apology for having them thrown in jail in the first place. If evidence of corruption emerges, the project will turn into another full blown reputation disaster for the Dutch oil giant following on from the reserves fraud which left Shell’s reputation in tatters.