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Concern at ‘deteriorating’ Corrib row

Monday, June 15, 2009LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent

LABOUR PARTY president Michael D Higgins has expressed concern about a “deteriorating situation” with the Corrib gas project in north Mayo, following the sinking last week of a fishing vessel in Broadhaven Bay.

Mr Higgins has said “accurate information” is required for “establishment of fact”.

He has also called on the Government to outline progress on enacting the Private Security Act, 2004, on regulating the security industry, in the light of the vessel’s sinking.

The owner of the fishing vessel, Pat O’Donnell, had expressed fears about his own safety more than a month ago, due to his decision not to sign up to an agreement between Shell and the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association on facilitating the laying of the Corrib gas project offshore pipeline in Broadhaven Bay.

Under current legislation, the developer cannot compel fishermen to quit fishing grounds during the pipelaying.

Bord Pleanála is continuing its oral hearing this week on the planning application for a modified onshore pipeline route and land valve, along with compulsory acquisition orders to private land.

Mr Higgins said he wished to know the “status of the existing legislation on the practice of private security companies and what, specifically, is their relationship with the Garda Commissioner”.

He raised the issue in the Dáil on last Thursday’s order of business.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen told Mr Higgins he did not have the information before him, and “must ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to revert to the Deputy on those issues”.

A chronology of events relating to the Iona Isle sinking was issued at the weekend by the legal representatives for Mr O’Donnell, McGarr Solicitors.

The statement says the fisherman and shellfish business owner had been keeping watch on his fishing gear on the seabed in the early hours of Thursday morning last, as he had “heard a rumour that an unidentified fishing boat was intent on removing (and damaging) his fishing gear”. “His gear had been damaged last year from a similar cause,” the solicitors state.

“Coincidental with those events of last year he was arrested twice by the Garda Síochána while attempting to protect his fishing gear from the loss and damage he sustained,” they state.

“He was released on the second occasion from Belmullet Garda station two minutes before his lawyers were due to present papers to the High Court for an inquiry into his arrest under Article 42.4.2 of the Constitution of Ireland.

“Subsequently the DPP directed that no charges be brought against him by the State arising from the circumstances of his arrest (or otherwise).”

Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe has also called for “a full and impartial investigation”, as the sinking “clearly raises tensions on all sides in west Mayo”.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has indicated that it is unlikely that it will initiate an inquiry, as it regards the sinking as a criminal matter. The Garda Síochána has said it will investigate, but said Mr O’Donnell was “not co-operating”.

Mr O’Donnell has said he will co-operate through his legal representatives, but that he was in shock when asked to hand over his clothing to four detectives and a uniformed Garda at Castlebar General Hospital last week.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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