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Irish Examiner: ‘Shell left protesters to languish in prison’

By Vivion Kilfeather
17 January 2007

SHELL E&P Ireland allowed five Rossport men languish in prison for several weeks after the company had agreed to cease work on its controversial onshore gas pipeline.

A cessation of work was decided upon pending the outcome of a safety review by the Minister for the Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the High Court was told yesterday.

Documentation in that case revealed that Shell had agreed with the Minister, in early July 2006, to stop work on the pipeline, pending compliance issues and the outcome of the safety review.

It was only in September 2006, however, that the company applied to the High Court to have the five men released, citing the suspension of work and the safety review as the basis for its application.

The five had spent 94 days in prison before they were freed.

Such factors should be taken into account by the court in considering its attitude to Shell’s application to discontinue an action brought against opponents of the gas pipeline, Lord Brennan QC, for two of those persons, Brendan James Philbin and Breege McGarry, told Ms Justice Laffoy yesterday.

Shell’s behaviour was relevant to his client’s counter claim for damages against Shell, he contended.

Even if the injunction sought against the Rossport five last year was justifiable, and his side contended it was not, the imprisonment was too long, he said.

Mr Philbin, Ms McGarry, Mr Willie Cordfuff and Mr Philip McGrath are the four remaining defendants involved in legal proceedings with Shell E&P arising from their opposition to the proposed route of the pipeline through their lands at Rossport.

Two other defendants, Peter Sweetman and Monica Muller, agreed last year to withdraw their counterclaims and Shell’s claim against them was struck out — on the basis that Shell would pay their legal costs.

Yesterday, Mr Patrick Hanratty SC, for Shell, applied to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy to discontinue its long-running legal action against opponents of the pipeline.

Mr Hanratty said the action was no longer necessary and had become “academic and redundant” in light of Shell’s agreement to modify the route of the controversial pipeline — following a recommendation to that effect by a government appointed mediator, Mr Peter Cassells.

Mr Hanratty said Shell had written to all six defendants with an offer that, if the counterclaims were discontinued, the company would pay their costs.

Mr Sweetman and Ms Muller had agreed to withdraw their counterclaims, while the remaining four others have not.

Mr Hanratty said the new route for the pipeline would not be identified until next autumn.

Mr James Connolly SC, for the State, said there were “issues of public law” arising out of the dispute that needed to be addressed.

As part of their counterclaims, the defendants had alleged that Shell had trespassed on private property at Rossport.

Mr Frank Callanan SC, for Mr McGrath and Mr Corduff, said it was difficult to see how Shell should not be liable for the costs of the action. The hearing continues today.

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