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Irish Times: Corrib gas hearing warned on bias

Aine Ryan,
Published: Apr 26, 2007

The “demonisation and vilification” of the people of Erris, along with the continued large presence of gardaI, militated against the Environmental Protection Agency’s oral hearing forming an objective decision, the hearing was told yesterday.

On the seventh day of the hearing into the issuing of an integrated pollution prevention licence for the Corrib gas refinery, Sean Harrington – who is objecting to the licence – suggested to the chairman, Frank Clinton, that since he was “only human”, he was bound to be influenced by such factors.

“In certain sections of the press we have been demonised and called such pejorative names as aboriginals, pseudo-intellectuals and druids. Last week’s High Court decision [in which Shell was ordered to pay costs of about 1 million] and the environmental award received by Willie Corduff have totally exonerated the Rossport Five,” said Mr Harrington. He said local people were intimidated by the large Garda presence in the mornings and by the fact that two plain-clothes gardaI attended the hearing.

“This is no longer an engineering problem, this is an international human rights issue,” he added.

Mr Clinton said that since, as far as he was aware, the gardaI were clients of the hotel, he would not wish to deprive them of their breakfasts.

“I will not seek to bring any influence to bear on the Garda presence here,” he said. However, he did say that he had conveyed an earlier complaint to an on-duty garda.

Mr Harrington also asked if Shell could confirm that there was any quarrying activity at Bellanaboy; if so, had it the necessary consents, and did it intend depositing the material that it is at present depositing in a Bord na Mona cutaway bog, 11 kilometres from Bellanaboy, on site. He was alluding to the site’s location in a drinking-water catchment for 10,000 people and the increased potential for run-off.

In reply, senior counsel for Shell Esmonde Keane said “the development was proceeding according to the planning permission obtained”, which did include the movement of material around the site. Mr Keane also confirmed no concrete was being manufactured on site and it was being supplied by a local supplier.

Mr Keane strongly challenged a contention by Dr Dave Aldridge, a military systems engineer and an expert witness for the Friends of Rossport, that “the proposal to store 3,627 tons of methanol at Bellanaboy in close proximity to houses and release upwards of 1,800 tons per year into the environment could lead to another Bhopal here in Co Mayo”. He argued that Dr Aldridge had made “an incredible quantum leap” in his assumption that under certain temperatures and conditions, such as a breach of pipes, the liquid methanol would transform into a toxic and potentially fatal vapour cloud.

Dr Aldridge said he was referring to “the worst-case scenario”. The chairman said “major accident scenarios” were outside the hearing’s parameters.

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