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Irish Independent: Legal bid to halt disputed Shell gas line gets go-ahead

Published: Aug 01, 2006

Company must produce documents being sought by residents, court rules

THE full hearing of a challenge to the construction of the controversial gas pipeline near Rossport in Co Mayo is to go ahead in the next legal term.

High Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled yesterday that Shell E and P Ireland Ltd must produce a range of documents sought by the Rossport residents for the hearing.

The judge also made orders of discovery against the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources for several documents, including the petroleum lease granted by the State to Shell.

Ms Justice Laffoy said that if privilege could not be claimed in relation to it, the court could take measures to ensure the confidentiality of its provisions were not breached by limiting access.

Another approach, she said, was that some of the clauses of the lease could be regarded as relevant while others not, and the lease could be discovered in an edited form.

The minister had pointed out in a letter to Shell that the development works in relation to the Corrib Gas field were regulated, even if indirectly, by the lease.

Ms Justice Laffoy said there might be commercially sensitive provisions in the lease, such as rents and and royalties, which were not relevant to the issues in the case.

She said that whether planning permission was necessary for the onshore pipeline was in issue in the proceedings.

The judge also ordered Shell to make discovery of the plan of development in respect of the Corrib gas field.

Confidential

Shell had asserted that the document was commercially sensitive and confidential and the judge said that if Shell could not establish privilege in relation to the document, a mechanism would have to be put in place in order to protect its commercial sensitivity.

Counsel for Shell and the State had argued that many documents being sought were neither necessary nor relevant to decide the issues in the case. Shell had contended that the defendants were engaged in a “fishing expedition” and that all the documents relating to the “overwhelming issue” in the case – the safety of the pipeline – were available.

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.

The Rossport Five, who also include Vincent McGrath and Michael O Seighin, were jailed in June 2005 after they were found in contempt of a court order granted to Shell in April 2005 which restrained interference with the pipeline construction.

They were freed last September.

Ms Justice Laffoy yesterday said that if the parties could not agree on the issues, Shell would have to run the case as it saw fit.

It will be mentioned in the High Court again on September 28.

Marathon

Meanwhile, campaigners opposing Shell’s plans are following the example of Mahatma Ghandi with a marathon walk to highlight their demands.

The Rossport Five and their supporters reached Ballina, Co Mayo, yesterday on the third stage of their coast-to-coast cross country trek.

The group is scheduled to arrive in Dublin on Saturday week after holding a series of public meetings in towns and cities along the way

Ann O’Loughlin

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