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Irish Times: Shell hopes to avoid pipeline dispute

Shell hopes to avoid pipeline dispute
Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent
Irish Times; May 08, 2006

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Shell E&P Ireland says it hopes to have reached a “negotiated settlement” on the future of the Corrib gas onshore pipeline before its continued legal action against objecting landowners reaches a full hearing.

The latest stage in the legal action takes place in the High Court tomorrow, but the company said yesterday it did not anticipate a full hearing until the autumn. Talks chaired by Peter Cassells are expected to continue this week between the company and the five men jailed over their opposition to the pipeline.

The permanent injunction sought last year by Shell against six people includes three of the men who were jailed for 94 days – Philip McGrath, Brendan Philbin and Willie Corduff – and landowners BrId McGarry, Monica Muller and environmentalist Peter Sweetman.

In their defence, the six have been given permission by the High Court to include claims that there is no valid consent for the pipeline. Legal representatives in a separate action by BrId McGarry, the largest landowner on the pipeline route, and Brendan Philbin have successfully applied for the Minister for the Marine to be named alongside Shell in the legal action.

“By the time the legal action reaches a full hearing, we hope to have reached a negotiated settlement,” Shell E&P Ireland said yesterday, after a week in which it issued conflicting signals about its intentions. A day after publication of the Government's safety review and recommendations, the company's chief executive, Andy Pyle, expressed “regret” at the men's jailing and admitted the company had made mistakes.

Mr Pyle confirmed to The Irish Times last Thursday that the company had been reviewing alternative routes for the pipeline in recent weeks and said he was willing to talk about “all options” in mediation. However, by Friday, in a briefing to local media in Castlebar, Mr Pyle was ruling out an offshore option and his representative played down this newspaper's report of alternative routes as “speculative”.

The company lifted its temporary injunction against landowners last September, after five men jailed for contempt of the court order spent 94 days in jail. However, the permanent injunction against six people, including three of the jailed landowners, has never been withdrawn.

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