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Farmers try to halt Mayo gas pipeline

THE SUNDAY TIMES (UK): Farmers try to halt Mayo gas pipeline

June 12, 2005

Scott Millar

MAYO farmers have formed an unusual alliance with left-wing activists in a bid to obstruct the construction of Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline.

The landowners received training in protest tactics a month ago from the veteran demonstrators, who are also opposed to the project on environmental grounds.

Work on the pipeline, which will consist of 10 kilometres overground and another 70 kilometres offshore, had been due to start this weekend but was stopped by members of the local community. Seven farmers whose land is subject to a compulsory purchase order say they would rather go to jail than hand over their land.

They were joined by more than 70 activists who set up a temporary camp outside Erris last weekend. Willie Corduff, a local farmer who prevented construction vehicles from moving onto his land on Friday, said: “We have no choice but to oppose this. People must understand this is no normal Bord Gais pipe. This is not supposed to be on land or, if it is, it should be in desert areas. This is going to push us out of our family homes. We are not against the gas, all we want is for the terminal to be offshore. The reason Shell doesn’t want that is for more profit, but what about our safety and the environment?

“The youth that came down at the weekend were some of the finest people you could meet. They are a credit in the way they left the field.”

Shell has ruled out setting up an offshore terminal to develop the €900m gas field because it says harsh weather conditions would threaten worker safety. The company confirmed that it had begun preparatory work on the pipeline this weekend and said it was willing to meet dissenting landowners.

Terry Clancy, who has been liaising between the activists and locals, said: “We will respond to Shell moving onto the land. They may find a permanent camp waiting for them. It is up to the local people to decide what is the best way to confront this threat. We are willing to help in whatever peaceful manner necessary.”

The camp was established by Shell to Sea, an environmental group set up to campaign against the pipeline. It lasted for three days, with seminars held on Shell’s role in oil disputes in Nigeria and talks given by locals on the area’s history and environment. Protesters, some of them veterans of other environmental protests at Carrickmines Castle and the Hill of Tara, briefed members of the local community on effective ways to halt construction and gain media exposure for their campaign.

Last Thursday, two Scania lorries carrying lengths of pipeline attempted to move onto some of the disputed land but were stopped by a farmer’s vehicle. The farmers and protesters are legally prevented from stopping construction work by a High Court injunction that they are currently challenging.

Shell has a compulsory purchase order for the lands granted by the department of the marine and natural resources in 2002. Frank Fahey, the then minister for the marine, deemed the construction of the pipeline as in the national interest, which allowed the compulsory purchase order to be granted.

It is the first time a private company has been granted such an order. The farmers will argue in court that the minister overstepped his powers by equating Shell’s interests with those of the nation.

Shell said: “The Corrib project has been exposed to one of the most exhaustive planning processes of any project of its kind in the history of the state.

“There are some objectors to the project, not all of whom live locally. SEPIL [Shell E&P Ireland] has come to an agreement with the majority of local landowners — 27 out of 34 — whose land is on the pipeline route and agreed compensation.

“Gas pipelines remain the most common and safest way to transport gas in Ireland and countries all over the world.”

Protesters believe the pipeline is not needed and will damage the environment. They say the Northern Western Regional Fisheries Board has already asked the company to stop the excavation of bogland at the onshore terminal site in Bellanaboy because of soil pollution of a local river.

Opponents also point out that an “independent” risk assessment of the pipeline was being carried out by a company jointly owned by Shell and BP.

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