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Western People: We don’t want to be guinea pigs for Shell, say residents

Western People: We don’t want to be guinea pigs for Shell, say residents

“Mr Corduff said Shell was using the courts “to bully” the residents of Rossport.”

Posted Monday 11 July 2005

He begged the court for the sort of justice which he had not got to date. Willie Corduff, a father of six from Rossport in County Mayo, told the High Court in Dublin on Wednesday morning that the development of the Corrib gas pipeline had taken an enormous toll on himself and his family. He was afraid to leave his home, was stressed, and was not sleeping at night. Mr Corduff said Shell was using the courts “to bully” the residents of Rossport.

“I am prepared to go to prison to get my rights, like McBrearty,” he said. Mr Corduff was one of five men from County Mayo to face contempt of court proceedings in the High Court in respect of a previous order restraining the men from obstructing work on the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline through their lands at Rossport.

The five men before the court were James (Brendan) Philbin, Philip McGrath, Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff and Micheal Ó Seighin. They represented themselves.

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

Earlier, the five men explained to Mr Justice John McMenamin why they felt unable to give undertakings not to engage in further breaches of the court order. 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. If the pipe was laid, he would have to leave the area and the house he had built “just for Shell”.

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.”

James 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, but despite this a multinational oil company had been given the right to build the pipeline in front of his and other houses for their own gain. He believed there was no valid ministerial consent for this development. He also said a road servicing the development was inadequate and denied he had blocked that road. Ireland would not gain one cent from this development and Shell was seeking to “make criminals out of us”, he said.

It was “a poor state of affairs if the judiciary was working hand in hand to facilitate a private company over the rights of Irish men and women”. Shell had caused unquantifiable disruption to the local community in the past five years.

Mr 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 and he was left with Shell, a private company.

Micheál Ó Seighin said what Shell was proposing was technically and materially wrong, 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.

If this pipeline was constructed and the court subsequently held it should be removed, that could not be done without irreparable damage to reclaimed peat bogland. He did not wish to go to jail but could not give the undertaking sought. There was a huge inequality of resources between the local people and the combined weight of Shell and the Government.

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. He also said the Compulsory Acquisition Orders relating to the lands through which it was planned to construct the pipeline were made under various ministerial consents.

His client had tried to enter on to some lands in March but were obstructed from doing so. On April 4th, 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.

Mr Hanratty added that Shell E & P had given assurances to the respondents that all reasonable steps would be taken to address the concerns they had expressed. Mr Justice McMenamin said the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan had on April 4th granted an order restraining obstruction access to lands, the subject of compulsory acquisition orders, for the purpose of works related to construction of the pipeline.

Mr Justice Finnegan had also said he would facilitate an early trial of the proceedings and that, while works relating to construction of the pipeline could proceed, there would be no functioning of the pipeline until the legal action was determined.

Discovery issues regarding that full hearing have been adjourned to July 11th and it is expected the hearing itself will begin in October.

The judge said Mr Justice Finnegan made those orders to ensure that the dispute between the two sides was resolved in accordance with the law. The issues raised before him could be raised in the full hearing. Unfortunately, he had no doubt about the residents’ position in this matter, they had said they were obstructing access to the lands and would continue to do so. His duty was to uphold the law and, unfortunately, he had no alternative but to direct the five go to jail until they purged their contempt.

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