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The Sunday Times: Leading article: Mayo will lose out

July 16, 2006 
The collapse of negotiations between Shell and the protesters who have lined up against its Corrib gas pipeline is an unwelcome development. The breakdown in talks reveals an entrenching of positions by both sides in what has already been a prolonged, bitter and costly dispute. More importantly from a national perspective, it sends out a damaging signal to international investors about Ireland’s reliability as a place to do business.

The €1 billion Corrib Field venture is one of the largest infrastructure enterprises in the state’s history and promises hundreds of long-term jobs for the Mayo region. Yet, following the succession of delays caused by the protests, the project is years behind schedule. Even if all local resistance to the undertaking disappeared immediately, it would be at least five years before gas could be brought onshore. 
The stalemate will not have gone unnoticed by others considering investments that could prove contentious. In an era of heightened environmental and safety awareness, controversies over the extraction of natural resources are almost inevitable. But with good will and common sense on all sides, it should be possible to resolve disagreements relatively quickly.

The impasse at which Shell now finds itself in north Mayo, however, suggests a social and political atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to all but the most bland entrepreneurial endeavour.

One year after the Rossport Five spent 94 days in jail for refusing to obey a court order, even the outline of a possible solution to this stand-off has not emerged. Since the escalation of the dispute in 2005, onshore work on the pipeline’s construction has been at a standstill.

Peter Cassells, the independent mediator appointed last year by the energy minister, Noel Dempsey, has called off conciliation talks, insisting that no agreement is likely in the foreseeable future. A former secretary of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, Mr Cassells is one of the country’s most skilled and experienced negotiators. Nevertheless, after seven months of intensive shuttle diplomacy between Shell’s headquarters in Dublin and the protesters’ homes in Mayo, he has thrown up his hands in exasperation. He will shortly submit a report to Mr Dempsey suggesting possible compromises, but makes no secret of the fact that his prognosis is bleak.

Both sides blame each other for the stalemate, but it is clear that the protesters, cheered on by a motley crew of supporters, have been hardening their position. Their original requests for safety assurances about the pipeline have given way to extravagant demands that Shell build a new terminal to carry out gas processing offshore.

The objectors insist that the company commits to relocating the project’s existing terminal site at Bellanaboy before they will even consent to face-to-face meetings. They are also demanding that the government renegotiate its contract with Shell. The obstinate rejection by the protesters of every conciliatory initiative proposed thus far suggests they are interested in confrontation not compromise. Shell will only be permitted to proceed with the Corrib gas project in its current configuration, they say, through “compulsion and force”. Unless the demands of the objectors are met, they promise “further conflict in North Mayo”.

Having assumed much wider significance than the initial dispute over safety considerations, the anti-pipeline campaign has become a political touchstone for many environmentalists and left-wingers. The infiltration of the Mayo protests by Sinn Fein activists, self-styled eco warriors and professional protesters from outside the area has increased tensions and made a settlement much more difficult. It is time that those with genuine local interests at heart regained control of the protest. Otherwise, Mayo residents will increasingly find themselves drawn into a game in which they and the country will be the biggest losers.

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One Comment

  1. admin says:

    Shell management made a huge blunder when with its usual arrogance and incompetence it decided to have the “Rossport Five” thrown in jail for 94 days This led to the eventually realisation by Shell that it had scored a spectacular PR own goal because the incarceration of protestors by a multinational giant predictably generated immense international support for the jailed men.

    Irish Shell Managing Director Andy Pyle ended up making a humiliating apology to the Rossport Five on behalf of the Royal Dutch Shell Group and the whole Corrib pipeline situation is now in a total mess, as is evident from the Sunday Times article.

    We forecast this outcome at the outset.

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