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High Court frees Rossport men

Irish Times: High Court frees Rossport men: “As the men known as the Rossport Five walked free from the High Court yesterday after 94 days in jail, Shell oil company executives, who had demanded their imprisonment in the first place, were themselves having to face potential contempt of court issues”

Saturday Oct 01, 2005

Court report: As the men known as the Rossport Five walked free from the High Court yesterday after 94 days in jail, Shell oil company executives, who had demanded their imprisonment in the first place, were themselves having to face potential contempt of court issues.

High Court president Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, who released the men to the cheers of their families and friends, told counsel for Shell Patrick Hanratty, he wanted the company to address its breach of an undertaking not to do anything not permitted by the licence of Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey.

That included continuing construction of the Corrib pipeline which Shell had continued to carry out in breach of both the undertaking and the Minister’s licence.

Mr Justice Finnegan said he wanted this matter addressed by a full sworn affidavit from Shell. He would deal with the matter at a further hearing later this month.

He had stated at earlier hearings that he would deal with Shell’s breach of its undertaking, but not while the five Mayo men remained in prison.

After having been told by Mr Hanratty that Shell now wished to have the temporary injunction, which restrained interference with the pipeline, lifted, Mr Justice Finnegan said it seemed to serve no useful purpose and he would discharge the injunction.

When John Rogers SC, for four of the five men, asked if it was the court’s intention to discharge the committal order, the judge asked: “Why should I do that.”

Mr Rogers said an order of committal was intended to be coercive and persuasive of purging civil contempt, and submitted the court did not have lawful jurisdiction to punish the men further than the term of imprisonment already served.

He said that in civil contempt, the court only moved at the instance of the party whose rights had been infringed. When the party seeking to enforce an order had no reason to continue with the injunction, the committal to prison was discharged. Mr Justice Finnegan said it seemed they intended continuing the course they had adopted, and asked were they going to purge their contempt.

Mr Rogers said it was his clients’ perception that there was an immediate danger to their families from the pipeline. “I have had precise instructions as to what to say to the court and regrettably that does not include a further undertaking,” he said. “They have instructed me to say to you that they have sincere regret that they disobeyed your lordship’s order.

“However, they find themselves in circumstances where they feel they were coerced into taking the action they did. They wish me to apologise to the court and express that.”

Mr Rogers said the question of an undertaking had arisen with regard to their future actions. They found themselves in a situation where they could not abide by a court order having regard to their personal circumstances where they believed the pipeline would give rise to real risk to their safety. That was their decision and he could not change that.

Mr Hanratty had applied to discharge the injunction and they knew that since July, the Minister had asked Shell to remove and dismantle the pipeline which remained the position today.

Mr Justice Finnegan lifted the committal order, releasing the men, and adjourned the matter of the court’s powers to punish them until October 25th. He sought legal submissions from all parties as to why he should not apply such powers.

Earlier, Mr Hanratty outlined the history of the earlier court proceedings and said that where there was an injunction in place and a change of circumstances occurred, that should be drawn to the court’s attention. He said it was clear no further construction work could take place by Shell until the completion of the Minister’s safety review. Weather conditions in the west would also not facilitate further work.

As a result of this, the question of an interlocutory injunction was now effectively redundant.

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