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Irish Independent: Shell in bid to end legal row with pipeline protesters

Published: Jan 17, 2007

SHELL has applied to the High Court to end its lengthy legal battle with opponents of its controversial pipeline.

Yesterday, Patrick Hanratty, for the oil giant, applied to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy to discontinue its long-running legal action.

Mr Hanratty said the action was no longer necessary and had become “academic and redundant” in light of its agreement to modify the route of the controversial pipeline following a recommendation to that effect by a government-appointed mediator.

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

However, it had emerged from documents that Shell had agreed with the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources in early July 2006 to stop work on the pipeline pending compliance issues and the outcome of the safety review.

Released

Yet it was only in September 2006 that the company applied to the High Court to have the five men released from prison, citing the suspension of work and the safety review as the basis for its application, Ms Justice Laffoy was told. The men had spent 94 days in prison before they were freed.

These factors should be taken into account by the court in considering its attitude to the oil company’s application to end the action, Lord Brennan QC, for two of the opponents, Brendan James Philbin and Breege McGarry, said. Shell’s behaviour was relevant to his clients’ counter-claim for damages against Shell, he argued.

Even if the injunction sought against the Rossport Five last year was justifiable, and his side felt it was not, the imprisonment was too long, counsel added.

Mr Philbin, Ms McGarry, Willie Cordfuff and 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.

He also said that the new route for the pipeline would not be identified until next autumn. A lot of technical issues had to be taken into account before this new route could be revealed, he added.

He also said that fresh compulsory acquisition orders would have to be sought in relation to lands of the defendants if the pipeline crossed those lands.

Shell is making a conscious effort to achieve the maximum degree of consensus with local landowners and the community for the new pipeline, counsel added.

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, counsel said. However Shell maintained it had consent to do so. The hearing continues today.

Ann O’Loughlin

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