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The Sunday Times: New land route proposed to calm Corrib activists

Stephen O’Brien, Political Correspondent
16 July 2006
 
PETER Cassells, the mediator in the Shell gas dispute in Mayo, is expected to recommend an alternative land route for the company’s controversial pipeline in a final report to Noel Dempsey, the energy minister.

Cassells, the former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, announced last week that his seven months of talks with Shell, local objectors in Rossport, and the wider North Mayo community had failed to reach agreement. But he promised to outline “the ingredients of a way forward” in a series of recommendations to be given to Dempsey before the end of the month. 
 
Cassells may stop short of specifying a compromise route for the pipeline, but a number of sources close to the mediation process expect he will recommend a move away from the route planned along the southern side of the Rossport peninsula. This will take it “away from the houses” owned by four of the five men jailed for three months last year for refusal to follow a court order.

Observers do not expect Cassells to endorse an underwater route along Sruwaddacon Bay to the south of Rossport, because its status as an EU-designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) could leave any development subject to years of legal challenge in Europe.

Nor is he likely to recommend moving the processing operation to sea, as favoured by the Rossport protesters and the Shell to Sea campaign group, which has campaigned against the project.

Shell, the lead partner in the gas exploration project, is understood to have considered a number of alternative routes from the point where the pipeline is scheduled to come onshore at the mouth of Sruwaddacon Bay to the processing facility at Bellanaboy almost six miles inland.

The Pro-Erris Gas Group, a combination of Mayo residents and business people who support the Corrib gas project, called earlier this year for the pipeline to be re-routed through the bay.

Shell responded to Cassells’ announcement saying it still believed a compromise solution acceptable “to the local community” could be found. But a statement issued by four of the Rossport Five said: “The Corrib gas project in its present configuration has run its course. What is therefore required is that the present ‘Plan of Development’ for this project be set aside and a new one negotiated that would prioritise health, safety and community consent

. . . The alternative is further conflict in North Mayo.”

The statement was issued in the names of Micheal O Seighin, Willie Corduff, and brothers Vincent and Philip McGrath. Brendan Philbin, the fifth man jailed last year, has not taken an active part in the mediation process since April but is pressing his case against Shell in a joint High Court action with Brid McGarry, owner of the largest land holdings in the path of the pipeline.

McGarry and Philbin are due back in the High Court in October to defend applications for permanent restraining orders from Shell.

Cassells indicated last week that his recommendations would address local safety concerns, the route of the pipeline, compensation for landowners, environmental concerns around the siting of the processing terminal and “improved benefits” for the region.

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