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The Rossport saga

Irish Times: The Rossport saga

“A Government-ordered safety review, in which opponents of the gas pipeline have refused to participate, could reach conclusions that neither side find comfortable.”

Monday 3 October 2005

Oct 03, 2005

The five men from Rossport in Co Mayo who spent 94 days in prison for being in contempt of the High Court received a warm welcome home at the weekend and are no doubt happy beyond words to be back with their families and friends.

It would be churlish not to wish them well but as they themselves have noted since their release on Friday, the saga that landed them in jail is far from over.

A Government-ordered safety review, in which opponents of the gas pipeline have refused to participate, could reach conclusions that neither side find comfortable. Separately, a mediator is to be appointed under the plan brokered by marine minister Noel Dempsey. That person will need to command the respect of both sides and will need to have terms of reference acceptable to both for their appointment to get off the ground. Thereafter, there must then be real and tangible evidence of good will for the mediation process to reach a successful conclusion.

The Rossport controversy has wider implications of which the Government should take note. It is difficult to see that otherwise law-abiding individuals, supported by their immediate community and other people across the country generally, would have acted as they did were there not deep feelings of mistrust in the entire planning process. Shell’s proposals went through the full gamut of the planning process during which those who objected were given full rights to make known their views. The fact that when decisions went against them people were unwilling to accept the outcome bespeaks a lack of faith in the system. That faith needs to be restored. As the Taoiseach has noted on more than one occasion, an enormous amount of development needs to take place in Ireland in the coming decades if our hard-earned prosperity is to be maintained. If every major commercial or infrastructural development is to be opposed to the nth degree possible (and beyond in some instances), we will simply grind to a halt.

Mr Justice Finnegan, President of the High Court, stood alone in recent weeks in upholding the rule of law, a duty he executed with exemplary even-handedness and for which he deserves to be thanked. During this controversy too many people, and most regrettably several members of the Oireachtas, showed a lack of understanding, or were simply unwilling to accept, the proper separation of powers that underpins the correct relationship between the legislature and judiciary. It would be a grim day if government ministers had the power to intervene in cases of contempt of court such as this.

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