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The Sunday Times: Shell’s Rossport spin doctor calls for alternative pipeline

Aine Ryan
A SPIN DOCTOR appointed to improve Shell’s image in Mayo, where it is engaged in a long-running battle to bring gas onshore, has predicted that its pipeline will never run through Rossport.
Christy Loftus, recently appointed as external affairs adviser by Shell, has advised his employers to start looking for alternative routes. “I’ve told Shell that I believe the pipeline will never be laid along that route, and I think they are listening to me,” he said.
But the former Western People journalist has also warned that attempts by Shell to Sea, a protest group, to have the gas processed offshore will never be considered by the company because of the economic implications.
Loftus, who is attending Irish classes to improve his ability to communicate with locals, admits he has made little or no progress since his appointment in February.
In early March, he sent letters to the Rossport Five, the five men who are objecting to the construction of the pipeline through Rossport, and a number of Shell to Sea activists, suggesting informal meetings. He has received no replies.
Maura Harrington, a Shell to Sea spokeswoman who is a gaelgoir and teacher, said she had considered acknowledging Loftus’s letter with a “fuaireas do litir”. This is traditional civil service speak for “I got your letter, but don’t want to know”.
Other locals are scathing about Loftus and another public relations appointee, retired chief superintendent John Carey, from the Belmullet area.
Last Friday, the president of the High Court ruled that the Rossport Five should not have to serve any more time in jail for their contempt of court after their protests prevented Shell from carrying on its business in Mayo. The court took into account that they had served 94 days in prison last year. They were released last September when Shell lifted the injunction against them. Shell was awarded costs.
Loftus said he was relieved that Judge Finnegan did not return the men to jail. “It would have been a public relations nightmare for Shell. The reality is, there will be no progress until these men sit across a table from Shell and negotiate. I see that as the only way forward,” Loftus said. The Rossport Five are now concerned that Shell will pursue them for costs. “We may have to go to jail again,” said Willie Corduff, one of the five, yesterday.
Shell confirmed its legal team will review Friday’s ruling on costs. “We will urgently seek clarification on this matter,” said a spokeswoman.
Loftus has been given a three-year contract and is paid €58,000 per annum. He says that during his interview with Shell he was “uncompromising and confrontational”, and told the company he wouldn’t defend their mistakes and wouldn’t be their apologist or spin doctor in north Mayo.
Morale remains high among anti-Shell protesters, Harrington said. The Rossport Solidarity Camp was reopened at the beginning of the month after many of its members spent the winter on lecture tours around England and Europe espousing the cause. “All we need now is our first camp baby,” said Harrington.
Mary Corduff, wife of one of the Rossport Five, said it was typical of Shell’s cynicism to use Mayo natives in an attempt to drive a wedge among the people. “The only people Shell feels sorry for is themselves,” said Corduff.
Loftus says he has a clear conscience about his new position. He said he has supported the Shell development from the outset and believes it will bring economic benefits to the county. “However, if I were in the shoes of the any one of the Rossport Five and I had safety concerns about a gas pipeline running close to my house, I would have acted in the same way,” he said.

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