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The Irish Times: Judge rules that Shell ‘solidarity camp’ be dismantled

Tom Shiel in Castlebar, Irish Times
Published: Sep 04, 2007

Environmental activists opposed to the Corrib gas project have been given until January 1st by a Circuit Court judge to vacate and demolish a “solidarity camp” that they erected two years ago in sand dunes at Glengad, Co Mayo.

The camp, which comprises a portable cabin, six beehive-shaped tents, toilets and a wind turbine, was erected, in what Mayo County Council says is “a particularly fragile landscape”.

The council, which said the camp was unauthorised and causing “irreparable damage” to the local environment, successfully obtained an injunction against three named defendants, Eoin O LeidhIn, Bob Kavanagh and Niall Harnett, at a sitting of the Circuit Court yesterday in Castlebar.

Judge Harvey Kenny said he appreciated the objectives of the defendants and their reasons for creating the camp. However, the camp did not have planning permission and had the potential to damage a very special area of conservation. He was directing that all unauthorised structures be removed, and granted a stay in the event of an appeal.

The judge said the defendants should pay the applicants’ costs, but added he would also suggest that the council not pursue costs as the defendants were “well-motivated but, unfortunately, they transgressed”.

Initially, Judge Kenny instructed that all unauthorised structures be removed from the dunes by October 1st, but extended the period to January 1st on the application of Jennifer Higgins, defending, who asked for extra time in which to dismantle the camp.

John Kiely, for Mayo County Council, said the local authority had no problem as long as the camp was dismantled with reasonable haste. He said he would be making a recommendation to the Mayo county manager, Des Mahon, on the costs.

In an affidavit read to the court yesterday, Leslie McMaster, an engineer with the council, said the area involved was beside a beach and the lands formed part of a candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC), known as the Glenamoy bog complex. The camp was approached by a path through the dunes.

He said the camp was being used as a base for those coming to protest against the Shell project. From press reports and local information he believed “numbers of people” stayed in the camp at weekends. There had been no planning application for the camp.

Karen Gaynor, a coastal ecologist with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, said it could take as long as 10 to 15 years for the site to recover fully from the presence of the structures, once they were removed.

In a written submission, one of the defendants, Niall Harnett, from Doonagore, Liscannor, Co Clare, said the relevant public authorities, including Mayo County Council, the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, had known of and acquiesced to the presence of the camp since February 2006.

He said the camp had always acted in good faith with regard to its responsibilities to consult with the relevant authorities and environmental protection.

“Never did any relevant authority issue any warning that the continuing course of conduct might change and the camp was never informed of its unauthorised nature until legal action had already been taken.”

Mr Harnett said the camp existed to assist the local community in drawing attention to and opposing the environmental damage and health and safety risks associated with the gas project “where environmental vandalism has already occurred, and is anticipated to continue”.

He said the camp was a facility to aid citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights to assemble peaceably, without arms, and engage in political action and protest against the Shell gas refinery.

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