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Irish Independent: No further time behind bars for the Rossport Five: But High Court orders the pipeline protesters to pay the costs of Shell contempt action

Apr 08, 2006
But High Court orders the pipeline protesters to pay the costs of Shell contempt action
Ann O'Loughlin and Eugene Moloney
THE Rossport Five will not be further punished as a result of their anti-pipeline protest, it emerged yesterday.
The five men from Co Mayo spent 94 days in jail last year for refusing to obey a court order not to interfere with the construction of the controversial Corrib gas pipeline near their homes. High Court President, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan, said that as the men had already spent that time in prison he did not intend imposing a further penalty.
However, he awarded costs of the contempt proceedings against the men to Shell E and P Ireland.
Prior to handing down judgment in the Four Courts, Mr Justice Finnegan sought assurances from the five men – brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath, Willie Corduff, Michael O Seighin and James Brendan Philbin – that there would be no protests in the court. He said there had been a disturbance on an earlier occasion and remarked that the court was “not designed for PR stunts and protests”. The five men were released from jail at the end of last September after the Shell oil company applied to lift the temporary injunction which restrained interference with the pipeline. In his judgment Mr Justice Finnegan also warned that, if Shell obtained a further injunction against them, the court had jurisdiction to impose a further fixed-term prison sentence.
He said it was appropriate for the court to take into account the consequences of the men's actions, including losses for Shell, the loss of employment in the Rossport area and the loss to the local and national economy.
After the judge directed the men to pay the costs incurred by Shell E and P in bringing the contempt proceedings, Mr Frank Callanan SC, for some of the men, objected and said Shell E and P, which was not represented in court yesterday, had not applied for those costs. Mr Justice Finnegan said he was making the costs order in any event.
The judge further indicated that the men's continuing refusal to purge their contempt will be a factor which will influence the court's discretion in relation to making other costs orders in the forthcoming hearing of a challenge to the Corrib gas field development.
The case arose after Shell sought and secured an injunction in April 2005 restraining interference with pipeline works.
The company said that if certain works were not commenced by June 1, 2005, it would be liable for 25,000 a day in stand-by costs and, if works had to be deferred to 2006, it would incur a remobilisaton fee of 2.5m.
Speaking outside the court, the Rossport Five joked that had they been jailed in the winter time they could have faced a moral dilemma had their cells been heated with Shell oil.
For men awaiting a possible further spell in jail, before yesterday's judgment the five appeared if not in cheerful mood, at least philosophical about their fate.
Perhaps it was a case of gallows humour as they waited at the back of the court for their case to be called.
While the five themselves stood quietly to one side with their families, their supporters, many of whom had travelled up by bus from Mayo, were so great in number they filled all available seats and poured out into the body of the courtroom.
It was an unusual collision of disparate worlds and because the Rossport Five's supporters so outnumbered those who daily toil in the courts, one could not help but feel it was the pinstripes and cufflinks of the legal profession and the notebooks of the media which were out of place.
Glancing around, it looked as if the group of besuited legal types looked like they had been transported to the Willy Clancy summer school.

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