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Irish Times: Protesters to try to end Corrib gas deadlock

By: Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent
Published: Nov 06, 2006

North Mayo’s Shell to Sea campaign is due to announce an initiative today aimed at breaking the deadlock over the Corrib gas project.

It is understood that the proposal, which will be outlined by the campaign in Castlebar this afternoon, could allow for dialogue between objecting local communities, Shell E&P Ireland and the Government.

An attempt by a Government-appointed party, former Ictu secretary-general Peter Cassells, to reach a mediated settlement failed earlier this year, and differences between the local community and Shell have become increasingly bitter since the company resumed work at its terminal site five weeks ago.

The resumption was in advance of company promises to identify a new route for its onshore pipeline, and some 80 gardaI are currently stationed in north Mayo to escort Shell staff and contractors to the site.

Several protesters have sustained injuries at early morning demonstrations and there have been several arrests. Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley (Ind) has expressed concern about “ill-discipline” and “undue aggression” shown by a “minority” of gardaI at the protests.

He has called on Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy to ensure that the force shows “respect” for the local Erris population “who are merely engaged in peaceful protest against a project to which they do not consent”.

GardaI have denied the claims and have said that their officers have been subjected to verbal abuse. The force also says it would reduce numbers if it received assurances that the protests would be “peaceful and lawful”.

GardaI in Belmullet have confirmed that they are investigating an alleged attempted assault of a Shell to Sea supporter by several Corrib gas terminal contract staff last Thursday. The incident is said to have occurred near Bangor-Erris, when a local man and a passenger were driving home from an early morning demonstration near the terminal site.

The man, who has made a statement to gardaI, says that he was forced off the road by several trucks employed on contract to carry materials for Shell OAP Ireland. Two of the drivers are said to have tried to haul him out of his vehicle, but a third driver intervened.

In a separate development, the Council for the West and Shell to Sea have both welcomed the approval by the Commission for Energy Regulation for natural gas supply to 11 towns along the Mayo-Galway gas transmission pipeline. Bord Gais hopes to connect Athenry, Craughwell, Headford and Tuam in Co Galway and Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Knock and Westport in Co Mayo to its network by the end of next year.

The commission and Bord Gais are also evaluating the viability of connecting further towns, and a separate study has been commissioned by the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey to look at the case for the north-west.

Dr Mark Garavan of Shell to Sea said that while the campaign was very disappointed at the exclusion of Erris, it could claim some credit in highlighting inadequacies in the current gas distribution network. The problems of processing the Corrib gas remained, but the recognition that the Bellanaboy-Craughwell pipeline was commercially viable in advance of Corrib’s completion was also very significant, Dr Garavan said.

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