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Irish Times: Judge orders State and Shell to provide documents

Published: Aug 01, 2006

A High Court judge has directed that a a range of documents must be produced by both energy giant Shell and the State to a number of residents in relation to proceedings arising from the residents’ opposition to the construction of the gas pipeline at Rossport in Co Mayo.

Those documents include the petroleum lease granted by the State to Shell, unless the company is able to prove that the lease is a document covered by legal privilege.

The full hearing of the legal action is unlikely to take place until late this year at the earliest.

In a judgment yesterday dealing with several issues preparatory to the hearing, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled that the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources should discover several documents, including the petroleum lease granted by the State to Shell. The court could take measures to ensure the confidentiality of its provisions by limiting access to the lease, she noted. Some of the clauses of the lease could be regarded as relevant while others not so and the lease could be discovered in a redacted form (with parts blacked out), the judge said.

The Minister had told Shell in a letter that the development works in relation to the Corrib Gas field are regulated indirectly by the lease. While noting there may be commercially sensitive provisions in the lease, such as rents and royalties not relevant to the issues in the case, the judge said she would order discovery of it, having regard to the Minister’s letter that the lease is to some extent relevant.

The question of whether planning permission was necessary for the onshore pipeline is an issue in the proceedings, she said. While the State parties had no function in relation to planning permission, there should be at least an averment that the State parties have no documentation which falls within the category related to the permission grant.

The judge also ordered Shell to make discovery of the “plan of development” for the gas pipeline works, a document Shell had argued was commercially sensitive and confidential. If Shell could not establish privilege in relation to that document, a mechanism will have to be put in place to protect its commercial sensitivity.

Ms Justice Laffoy also directed discovery of the quantitative risk assessment in respect of the gas reception terminal at Bellanaboy. Shell’s application for permanent orders restraining trespass and interference with pipeline construction works are being brought against six people.

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