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Shell hints at moving pipeline to end Rossport dispute

The Sunday Times: Shell hints at moving pipeline to end Rossport dispute

“…it emerged that Shell went against its own legal advice in agreeing to lift the injunction against the men. It fears that this could prejudice a further application for an injunction.”: “There was a clear attempt to break the will of these men. That’s why they were left in Cloverhill prison.”

Sunday 2 October 2005

Stephen O’Brien and Siobhan Maguire

SHELL’s gas pipeline is likely to be moved away from the homes of the Rossport Five and other property owners in Mayo as part of a government-led process to settle the dispute.

Mediation gets under way in the coming weeks and government officials and Shell yesterday admitted that moving the pipeline a greater distance from people’s homes would be a key matter.

The energy company is hopeful a positive consultation over safety issues will defuse tension now that the Rossport Five have been released from prison.

Its 70km pipeline is due to run from a gas field in the Atlantic to a refinery near Rossport. Residents say running the pipeline 70 metres from their homes threatens their health and safety.

Shell maintains that its workers face a far higher risk if gas is refined at sea.

More than 2,000 people took part in a rally in Dublin yesterday in support of the five Mayo men who were released on Friday after 94 days in jail over their opposition to the pipeline.

At the gates of Leinster House the five — Micheal O’Seighin, Willie Corduff, Brendan Philbin, Philip and Vincent McGrath — insisted they would not give up their fight. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, was among the politicians who turned out to support the campaign.

Bernard Durkan, a Kildare TD born in Mayo, represented Fine Gael but was booed by the large crowd. The rally was chaired by Jerry Cowley, an independent Mayo TD, and guest speakers included Dr Owens Wiwa, brother of Ken Saro Wiwa, the executed Ogoni leader and Nigerian writer.

As the Rossport Five made their way west last night to emotional reunions with neighbours and friends, it emerged that Shell went against its own legal advice in agreeing to lift the injunction against the men. It fears that this could prejudice a further application for an injunction.

Andy Pyle, the chairman, has said he does not anticipate any further imprisonments, and promised that Shell would try to foster a positive climate for progress. An arbitrator, who will be agreed by representatives of the Rossport community and the multi-national company will now be appointed.

Noel Dempsey, the communications and natural resources minister, is credited with brokering the agreement between Shell and the Rossport Five that led to the men’s release. While the company has praised the minister’s intervention, the freed men were slow to join the chorus of congratulation yesterday, and asked why it took 94 days to put a mediation process in place. O’Seighin said the five would be willing to speak with Shell and Dempsey as part of talks to reach an agreement.

He said the five had no regrets for breaching a court injunction not to interfere with the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline, which led to their jailing.

“If we had regrets we’d be saying to all these people who have supported us that we made a mistake,” he said. “We are not trying to tell the minister how he should run his business but we are telling him that he will not put our lives and the lives of the community at risk now or in the future.”

Tony Gregory, an independent TD, said: “If the government had any sincerity at all, they should have announced their mediator 90 days ago. There was a clear attempt to break the will of these men. That’s why they were left in Cloverhill prison.”

Despite criticism from some in Erris, Dempsey did maintain a channel of communication with the protestors during the summer. This was done through a local intermediary, whose identity was still being carefully concealed by department officials yesterday.

With tensions running high on the Erris peninsula, Mayo county council staff were prevented by pickets from accessing the site in early September, and a Shell team was blockaded on the site and prevented from leaving for six hours in mid-September.

But it is understood Dempsey demanded assurances from Shell representatives that if the safety review was to have any chance of success, personnel from the consultancy firm Advantica would have to be allowed access to the refinery site for inspection purposes.

Dempsey also sought access for teams from Mayo county council and from Shell to carry out and monitor necessary environmental works on the site including the management of settling ponds and the maintenance of drains.

Sources close to Shell suggested that easing of tensions on the ground in Erris and the offer of a government led mediation process, encouraged the company to take a risk beyond the scope of its legal advice.

“It really was an act of faith in the process put in place by the minister and the government,” said the Shell source.

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