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Irish Times: Legal challenge to gas pipeline will not be heard before October

Legal challenge to gas pipeline will not be heard before October
Mary Carolan
Irish Times; May 10, 2006

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The full hearing of a legal challenge to the construction of the controversial high-pressure gas pipeline near Rossport in Co Mayo will not be ready to proceed before October next, the High Court heard yesterday.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy was also told by Lord Dan Brennan QC, for two local residents who object to the pipeline, that the Minister for the Marine may decide within the next few weeks that the gas pipeline should operate at normal pressure and not at the high level of pressure originally proposed by Shell E&P Ireland.

Such a decision would represent a victory for his clients on one of the issues in the case, given Shell's denial that the high-pressure pipeline posed any risk, counsel said.

The judge was yesterday dealing with several matters preparatory to the full hearing of the case. Pat Hanratty SC, for Shell E&P Ireland, said it was almost certain, given the issues involved, that the case would not be ready for hearing before October next. The judge agreed with that.

Shell's application for permanent orders restraining trespass and interference with pipeline construction works are brought against six persons, three of whom are part of the group known as the “Rossport Five”. Those three are James Brendan Philbin, Philip McGrath and Willie Corduff. The other three defendants are BrId McGarry and Monica Muller, who live in the Rossport area, and Peter Sweetman, an environmental photographer.

In the main action, Mr Philbin and Ms McGarry, who are represented by Lord Brennan, earlier secured permission from the court to amend their defences to the action and to bring counter claims by joining the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources and the State in the case.

Among the matters before Ms Justice Laffoy yesterday were written lists of what the parties consider to be the issues in the case. The judge was told there was agreement “in principle” regarding several issues, but it was submitted that the court should determine the precise issues before making any ruling on discovery applications by some of the defendants.

Among the documents being sought for the full hearing are all documents related to the health and safety of the pipeline development.

Mr Philbin, who claims the pipeline poses a real threat to the lives and health of people in the vicinity, is seeking discovery of all documents related to the carrying out in 2001 of a Quantified Risk Assessment of the pipeline project. Counsel for Shell and the State argued that many documents being sought were neither necessary nor relevant to decide the issues in the case.

Mr Hanratty SC, for Shell, argued the defendants are engaged in a “fishing expedition” and that all the documents related to the “overwhelming issue” in the case, the safety of the pipeline, were available.

James Connolly SC, for the State, said his clients were anxious that the public law issues in the case be decided separately from issues relating to trespass.

The State would prefer not to be embroiled in what could be a very long action regarding trespass, he said.

The hearing continues today.

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