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THE SUNDAY TIMES: Five have had their say

THE SUNDAY TIMES: Five have had their say

“Having initially won popular sympathy over their willingness to go to prison for their principles, the so-called Rossport Five now threaten to alienate public opinion over their apparent determination to stay there.”

Sunday 17 July 2005

Having initially won popular sympathy over their willingness to go to prison for their principles, the so-called Rossport Five now threaten to alienate public opinion over their apparent determination to stay there. It has not been a good week for the Mayo men, jailed for refusing to obey a court order that allows Shell to run a gas pipeline from the offshore Corrib field past their homes in Rossport. The obstinate rejection by the protesters of a conciliatory initiative by Noel Dempsey, the minister for communications, marine and natural resources, suggests that they are more interested in confrontation than compromise.

Placed in an invidious position by the dispute, Mr Dempsey’s efforts to break the deadlock are commendable. Shell’s Corrib gas project has, after all, been approved by an exhaustive planning process. The majority of Rossport residents are happy to permit the laying of pipes on their land, in return for payment. But scare-mongering by a small anti-gas group has raised unnecessary fears about the pipeline’s safety, which the company and several independent engineering observers insist are misplaced. Mr Dempsey’s proposals include a further safety review of the onshore pipeline conducted by international experts.

Strangely, these clear concessions were greeted with a hardening of position by the jailed protesters. Their original requests for safety assurances have given way to extravagant demands that Shell be forced to build an offshore terminal to carry out gas processing.

Ironically, the focus on the Rossport Five deflects attention from more serious issues surrounding gas-drilling in Irish waters, such as the allocation by government of exploration licences with little or no benefit to the state. The jailed men would better serve themselves, their families, their community and indeed their country if they climbed off their high horses, and accepted the compromise offered by Mr Dempsey as an honourable means of regaining their freedom. Their fate is in their own hands.

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