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Shell faces possible contempt as five go free after 94 days in jail

Irish Independent: Shell faces possible contempt as five go free after 94 days in jail

“Counsel for Shell, Patrick Hanratty, had applied to discharge the injunction “AS the Rossport Five walked free in the High Court yesterday, the Shell oil company itself was facing possible contempt of court.”

Saturday Oct 01, 2005

AS the Rossport Five walked free in the High Court yesterday, the Shell oil company itself was facing possible contempt of court.

The five have spent 94 days in jail. The oil company had demanded their imprisonment.

High Court President, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, who released the men to the cheers of their families and friends, said he wanted the company to address its breach of an undertaking.

The undertaking was not to do anything not permitted by the licence of Marine Minister Noel Dempsey.

That included continuing construction of the Corrib pipeline which Shell had continued to carry out.

Mr Justice Finnegan said he wanted this matter addressed by a full sworn affidavit from Shell.

He said he would deal with the matter at a further hearing later this month.

Judge Finnegan had said at earlier hearings that he would deal with Shell’s breach of its undertaking but not while the five 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, Judge Finnegan said it seemed to serve no useful purpose at this stage and he said 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, Judge Finnegan asked: “Why should I do that?”

Mr Rogers, who appeared with Peter Bland, said an order of committal was intended to be coercive, 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.

Judge Finnegan said it seemed they intended continuing the course they had adopted and asked were they not 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,” Mr Rogers 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 regrettably 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 an order of the court 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.

Counsel for Shell, Patrick Hanratty, had applied to discharge the injunction and they knew that since July the Minister had actually asked Shell to remove and dismantle the pipeline which remained the position today. Judge Finnegan lifted the committal order, releasing the men, and adjourned the matter of the court’s powers to further punish them until October 25 and sought legal submissions from all parties on the question and as to why he should not apply such powers.

The release of the Rossport Five was welcomed across political party lines.

Mayo TD and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said his party had adopted a constructive attitude towards a solution, despite criticism that he was not vocal enough.

Labour spokesman Tommy Broughan claimed the formula that facilitated the men’s release had been suggested by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte before the end of June.

Green party leader Trevor Sargent said that the Government had serious questions to answer on the planning process.

Ray Managh

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