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Irish Times: Commission queries pipeline approvals

Published: Jul 27, 2006

The European Commission believes Ireland has not followed EU habitats directive procedures in relation to approvals for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline across Broadhaven Bay, Co Mayo, writes Lorna Siggins , Marine Correspondent

The commission’s environment directorate has confirmed that the issue is part of a wider infringement case being taken by the European Court of Justice against Ireland over implementation of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The EU’s advocate general is due to issue an opinion on the matter in early September.

In a separate development, the report by Government-appointed independent mediator Peter Cassells on the Corrib gas field issue is due to be published this week.

Broadhaven Bay’s importance as a habitat for whales and dolphins is the focus of the commission’s concern, given that the bay is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Article 12 (1) of the habitats directive prohibits a number of actions, including deliberate disturbance and deterioration of breeding and resting places.

The Government was aware of the commission’s concern back in 2002, following lodgment of several complaints by Mayo resident Monica Muller and later by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Ms Muller and Mrs Mary Philbin, both of whom had lands on the onshore pipeline route, had already made an unsuccessful injunction application to the High Court in relation to approvals given in 2002 by former marine minister Frank Fahey for the pipeline.

Main developer of the gas field, 70km off the Mayo coast at the time, was Enterprise Energy Ireland. Royal Dutch Shell later bought over the project, when the plan of development had also been approved by the former minister.

The advocate general’s opinion is the second stage in infringement proceedings against Ireland over the habitats directive. The ruling by the European Court of Justice is expected to follow within four to six months.

If Ireland is found guilty and fails to comply with the court judgment, the court is empowered to hand down penalties that may comprise a lump sum or daily payment of fines.

A separate complaint has been lodged recently by An Taisce in relation to the validity of ministerial consents issued for the high pressure pipeline. The formal complaint arises from a report for An Taisce by former Bord Gais engineering manager Leo Corcoran, who contends that the consents don’t oblige the developer by law to comply with a pipeline code of practice and are in breach of EU directives.

Shell E&P Ireland has indicated that it is willing to discuss an alternative pipeline route but says that “those who object to the Corrib project” were “not prepared to enter into face-to-face dialogue”.

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