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The Mayo News: Shell to Sea

Wednesday, 21 November 2007 

“To use a phrase beloved of Shell to Sea supporters, there is no ‘community consent’ for the badgering of the Gardaí as they seek to maintain the rule of democratic law at the gates of Bellanaboy”

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

Last Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency granted an operating licence for the Corrib gas refinery at Bellanaboy. It attached stringent conditions, which Shell must obey, to its approval. Shell to Sea reacted to the news with predictable negativity. Last April, when the agency held a lengthy oral hearing on the proposed refinery, I heard many Shell to Sea supporters praise its officials for the courtesy of their manner and the thoroughness of their approach.

Not so any more! They have met the fate of all who do not swallow indiscriminately the Shell to Sea agenda. They have been placed among the ranks of the unclean. Watch out Eamon Ryan and John Gormley. You are next!

Shell to Sea have a plethora of spokespersons. It is difficult to know who actually speaks for it. The emphases sometimes vary but the mood music is similar. They all express an angry frustration with people who do not accept their dark visions of a future with Shell.
According to last Wednesday’s Irish Times, Ms Mary Corduff, one of these spokespersons, now has no confidence in the EPA. On what authority does she base her claims that her view is superior to the considered reflections of a reputable and independent agency? I think we should be told.

For some reason I am reminded of the story of a devoted mother whose unathletic son joined the army. On passing out day, as she watched the young man hobble inelegantly after his smart classmates, she murmured, ‘everyone out of step except my Johnny’.
I write on this subject with some trepidation. Some Shell to Sea supporters have also placed me in the ranks of the unclean. My ‘crime’? I accepted membership of an independent board, under the distinguished chairmanship of the former editor of this newspaper, Seán Staunton, which administers a scholarship scheme for Erris students, funded by Shell. I wear their censure lightly. Any legal organisation prepared to provide educational opportunities in Erris, one of the most disadvantaged regions in the country, is welcome.

Some Shell to Sea supporters have been generous, if I may put it like that, in giving me their opinions on my membership of the scholarship board. I would like to reciprocate their generosity by offering them some advice on their campaign.

Is it not time that Shell to Sea evaluated their activities? On the credit side, those who have opposed the project or questioned aspects of it have done the community some service. I reckon that never again in Ireland will multinational companies and government agencies treat a community in a cavalier a fashion as the people of Erris were in the early days of this project. The project is demonstrably safer now. There are local benefits. Erris people are employed in different capacities. Erris businesses are providing services in the construction of the terminal. The Minister for Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, has indicated that the Government will legislate for greater financial returns to the State from any future discoveries of gas or oil off the Irish coast.

I believe that Shell to Sea should recognise that support for their intransigent stand has dropped significantly. Jerry Cowley’s passionate engagement with their cause did not translate into support for him in the Erris region in the general election. He failed to get a majority of the votes even in the areas most affected by the project.

The number of daily protesters at Bellanaboy has dwindled. It is occasionally swollen by the importation of serial environmental protesters from far places. These people arrive as dawn breaks over Bellanaboy. They march along the road, tangle with the Gardaí and shout insults at workers entering the terminal. By early afternoon they have fled the scene. In the evening, in the comfort of their homes, they watch on the news the colourful fodder they have earlier provided in distant Mayo. How meaningful is that?

Many people fear that the Shell to Sea opposition to the Corrib gas project has toppled into extremism. To use a phrase, beloved of its supporters, there is no ‘community consent’ for the badgering of the Gardaí as they seek to maintain the rule of democratic law at the gates of Bellanaboy. Many Erris people have served and are serving with distinction in the Gardaí, none more so than Noel Conroy, just retired as Commissioner.
There is no ‘community consent’ for the verbal abuse and intimidation – sometimes subtle, sometimes overt – of those who work on the project or do not support the cause. There is no ‘community consent’ for the vandalising of the property of local businesses providing services to the project.

Is it not time that Shell to Sea stopped drawing sustenance from the early archive of the project to justify continued intransigence? I know that there are sincere people who have worries about what the pipeline and terminal mean for their areas. It is time that they seized control of the protest movement from extremist elements who, like the Bourbon kings of pre-revolutionary France, have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

The only realistic way forward is based on an acceptance that Shell have legal approval for most facets of the project. Those who have genuine concerns should engage with Shell and the relevant government agencies in a forum where their concerns can be addressed and the benefits to Erris maximised.

Shell to Sea have gambled too long in the environmental casino on an all or nothing approach. Moderation is the only game in the last chance saloon.

http://www.mayonews.ie/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2825&Itemid=40

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