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Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com: And then there were four as Rossport protesters split

The Sunday Times
June 25, 2006

Stephen O’Brien, Political Correspondent
 
THE Rossport Five has become the Rossport Four. Differences among the men jailed last year over their protest against Shell’s proposed gas pipeline in Mayo have resulted in a split in the group.

One of the five, Brendan Philbin, has not taken any active part in the group’s discussions for about two months and is now pursuing his case against Shell through a separate legal strategy. 
 
Tensions also exist within the remaining four, according to local sources, but they survived a falling-out last month over their response to an “apology” issued by Shell following the release of a safety review by Advantica, consultants hired by the government.

One of the four, Willie Corduff, angrily disagreed when the apology was accepted by Micheal O’Seighin, the group’s de facto leader and oldest member.

The differences among the Rossport Five are unlikely to make it any easier for Shell to find a compromise solution, however. The company is understood to be examining possible alternative pipeline routes, including some through the environmentally sensitive Sruwaddacon Bay.

None of the five could be contacted for comment last week. In any case, they have given undertakings not to comment publicly on a mediation process being conducted by Peter Cassells, a former trade union leader.

Dr Mark Garavan, a spokesman for the Shell to Sea group that is opposing Shell’s pipeline project, said: “Brendan [Philbin] is still very much in touch with what is going on, but the other four men are, for the most part, conducting the negotiations.”

Garavan conceded there were “different views” when O’Seighin accepted the apology issued by Andy Pyle, the managing director of Shell Exploration and Production Ireland Ltd (SEPIL). But he pointed out that none of the five publicly distanced themselves from O’Seighin’s statement.

The publication of the Advantica report, Pyle’s apology for Shell’s “mistakes” and the “hurt caused” by the jailing, and O’Seighin’s acceptance of that apology were seen as the foundations for progress in the mediation process.

Cassells, the former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, has held a number of meetings in Mayo since, but local sources say no face-to-face meetings between Shell and the Rossport Four have taken place.

Garavan said there were no indications of an imminent breakthrough. Diverting the Shell pipeline away from the Rossport peninsula and into Sruwaddacon Bay to the south would require “a whole new set of consents” from Noel Dempsey, the energy minister, he said.

The bay is a European Union-designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which means planning permission would be more difficult to secure and it opens up the prospect of long-running challenges in the European courts. The state does, however, have the authority to grant permission for development “of national importance” in SACs.

Jailed for defiance of a High Court order not to obstruct Shell’s work last year, Philbin is now back in the High Court defending an action taken by Shell for permanent restraining orders against him and Brid McGarry, the owner of one of the largest land-holdings in Rossport.
 
 

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