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Irish Times: Call for Shell to disclose local sponsorship deals

Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent, Irish Times
Published: Aug 14, 2007

The North Mayo Shell to Sea campaign has called on Shell E&P Ireland to disclose details of its sponsorship of local organisations in Erris, following the controversy over funding of the Feile Iorrais arts festival.

The campaign was commenting on what it has described as “unacceptable” heckling experienced by Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins during her recent reading at the international folk arts festival.

Ms Higgins was among several artists booked for the event who had expressed disappointment that they had not been informed beforehand of Shell’s financial support. Shell’s sponsorship appeared on the festival website, but not on the printed Feile Iorrais programme.

The festival committee said that there was no deliberate attempt to conceal the funding, and the decision not to list Shell with other sponsors related to “design issues”. Ms Higgins decided to perform but to waive her fee, and was heckled when she attempted to state this at her reading in Belmullet.

Shell to Sea said it wished to thank all the artists who expressed their “public support”, and said the “unacceptable behaviour” experienced by Ms Higgins was not representative of the community.

The campaign said it highlighted the need for “transparency and openness regarding Shell’s funding of local groups”, and called on the company to disclose details of any other donations made by it in the area.

“We feel that such a public disclosure would help to allay suspicions that Shell is operating a slush fund to elicit support for the proposed Corrib scheme,” the campaign said.

A Shell E&P Ireland spokeswoman said yesterday that the company did not consider it appropriate to disclose details of community funding, amounting to grants of between 2,000 and 10,000, without the permission of recipients.

Recipients such as the Humbert Summer School, which Shell had supported over the last few years, had been happy to have that aid made public, the spokeswoman said.

Among over 40 applications to the company for funding this year, one-third had come from local sports groups, one-third from voluntary organisations and one-third from local events, she said. A number of applications for third-level scholarships were also being assessed by a separate committee.

Late last week, the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association said that it would not consider or accept any development grant or aid of any kind from Shell E&P Ireland until the issue of the refinery discharge pipe was “resolved to the satisfaction of the majority of fishermen in Erris”.

Association members had agreed unanimously last week that if the pipe was allowed to “discharge its cocktail of bio-accumulative pollutants and chemicals in its presently proposed location”, it would be “the end of inshore fishing in Erris”.

Shell to Sea has also expressed concern about the stranding and death of a long-finned pilot whale at the pipeline landfall at Glengad.

However, Shell E&P Ireland said it had already finished its surveying work in Sruwaddaccon Bay before the stranding on August 3rd.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said that it had not been informed of the whale’s death by Mayo County Council, which has since buried the creature.

However, Dr Simon Berrow of the group said the local authority had no obligation to inform it. Pilot whale strandings were common, and any link with seismic work would be “extremely unlikely”, he said.

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