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Irish Times: daras defends giving Shell use of premises

By: Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent, Irish Times
Published: Jan 11, 2007

Údaras na Gaeltachta has defended its decision to offer premises in north Mayo to the Garda SIochana and Shell E&P Ireland for the Corrib gas project.

The Gaeltacht development agency’s chief executive, Padraig O hAolain, has also said that no grant-aid or financial aid is involved in the arrangement and it is “perfectly within the agency’s mandate”.

In a related development, Shell E&P Ireland has advertised a 21- day public consultation period for its foreshore licence application, as part of its attempts to find a modified route for the project’s controversial onshore pipeline.

Údaras na Gaeltachta’s head office at Furbo, Co Galway, is due to be picketed by the Shell to Sea campaign tomorrow in protest at the agency’s decision last year to allow the Garda and Shell E&P Ireland to use a 500 square metre factory owned by it in Belmullet.

Padraig Campbell of the Shell to Sea campaign said that the arrangement was outside the agency’s mandate as a social and economic development body. He also accused Údaras of ignoring the health and safety concerns of local residents.

Údaras na Gaeltachta gave the Garda permission from early last October to use part of its unit as a base, when more than 100 extra gardaI were deployed to escort Shell staff and contractors to the Corrib gas terminal site at Bellanaboy. Up to 150 gardaI returned to north Mayo this week to monitor daily early morning protests close to the Shell terminal by residents.

The Garda arrangement was on a rent-free but “caretakers’ agreement” basis, and was subject to monthly reviews, Mr O hAolain said yesterday.

The industrial outlet had not been used since it was vacated by the Carraig Donn knitwear company, he said. Also last autumn, Shell E&P Ireland had applied to the Gaeltacht agency to set up an administrative office in the main part of the factory, converting it to an administrative centre employing up to 25 people.

“The submission was assessed on the basis of all such applications,” Mr O hAolain said.

The agency’s board considered two factors in agreeing to lease the premises to Shell, he said – the health and safety concerns of people living along the pipeline route and the concerns of people living near Bellanaboy.

“We felt Shell’s plan had no implications for either of these and as a Gaeltacht agency, we have raised these concerns in any dealings we have had with the company. At the same time, we cannot take sides.”

Mr O hAolain said the leasing arrangement with Shell was for seven years, after which Údaras could exercise its right to reacquire the building but this would be subject to independent evaluation.

Conversion costs estimated at 1 million would be paid by Shell.

Shell E&P Ireland said the issue was one for Údaras na Gaeltachta to comment on.

The company placed notices yesterday in national and local press, advertising a 21-day public consultation period for its foreshore licence application in the “vicinity of” Sruwaddacon Bay and the estuary “adjacent to” Curraunboy, Co Mayo.

It intends to carry out investigation works in these areas as part of its seven-point plan to identify a modified route for the high-pressure onshore pipeline, linking the gas field offshore to the terminal at Bellanaboy.

The licence application has been submitted to the Department of the Marine, which is expected to make a decision within several months.

Shell is also holding several more “open evenings” next week in Ballina and Castlebar, similar to sessions it held in Belmullet in November, a company spokeswoman said.

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