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Irish Independent: Shell-shocked five jailed for obstructing new gas pipeline

Irish Independent: Shell-shocked five jailed for obstructing new gas pipeline

“FIVE men were jailed indefinitely yesterday…”

Thursday Jun 30, 2005

FIVE men were jailed indefinitely yesterday when they refused to stop breaching a court order restraining the obstruction of works for construction of the Corrib gas pipeline through some of their lands at Rossport, Co Mayo.

A number of other local persons are also facing imprisonment when proceedings alleging breach of the same order, granted on April 4, come before the High Court tomorrow.

One of those, Brid McGarry, told the court yesterday she believed she had no alternative but to go to jail as the pipeline placed the community at “unprecedented risk”.

Shell E and P Ireland, developer of the gas field, sought committal orders against the five men yesterday. The company, through its counsel, Patrick Hanratty, SC, said it did so “with considerable regret”. Mr Hanratty also sought and secured his costs of the application.

The five men jailed, who represented themselves in court, are James P Philbin, Philip McGrath, Willie Corduff, Vincent McGrath and Micheal O Seighin. They will remain in prison until they purge their contempt.

Earlier, the five explained to Mr Justice John MacMenamin why they felt unable to give undertakings not to engage in further breaches of the court order, including concerns about the health and safety implications of the pipeline.

Philip McGrath said he was just seeking to protect his lands. The pipeline was just 70 metres from his house and he was “living in fear” for his safety. The pipeline had “a bar pressure of 345” and such a pipeline had never before been constructed in a residential area. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig for Shell.”

Mr Corduff, a father of six, said he was afraid to leave his home, was stressed, was not sleeping at night and was begging the court for “justice”, which he had not got. He said Shell was using the courts “to bully us”.

Mr Philbin said the court had only heard from Shell a “one-sided version” of events and “a lot of untruths”. He had reason to believe a quantifiable risk assessment on the pipeline had not been independently carried out. Ireland would not gain one cent from this development and Shell was seeking to “make criminals out of us”, said Mr Philbin.

Vincent McGrath said his house was only 20 metres from “this unprecedented pipeline”. His main concern was that no State body was taking responsibility for his safety.

Micheal O Seighin said what Shell was proposing was technically and materially wrong and in breach of EU regulations and of Shell’s normal standards regarding pipelines. It was also not under the control of the energy regulator or the health and safety authority. In applying for the committal order, Mr Hanratty said he was doing so reluctantly and because his client had no alternative. He said failure to adhere to construction deadlines could expose his client to losses of €25,000 a day. H His client had tried to enter on to some lands in March but were obstructed from doing so. On April 4, it secured a court order restraining obstruction.

However, when engineers with his clients sought to gain access to the lands earlier this month, they were again obstructed by the respondents.

Giving his decision, Mr Justice McMenamin said he had no alternative but to make the orders sought since the residents had made it clear they would continue to obstruct access to the lands. The case brought by the residents against Shell E and P is set to begin in October.

John Maddock

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