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Parish priest heckled over support for Shell

The Irish Times – Thursday, September 2, 2010

ÁINE RYAN

THE CONTROVERSIAL Corrib gas project is arguably the most forensically examined project in the 88-year history of the State, a northwest Mayo parish priest said in support of the project yesterday.

Fr Kevin Hegarty of Kilmore-Erris was the first of two parish priests to address the An Bord Pleanála hearing, in Belmullet, Co Mayo, into Shell’s revised application.

His diocesan colleague, Fr Michael Nallen, the parish priest of Kilcommon, where the project is located, is scheduled to address the hearing today and express the concerns and fears of his parishioners.

Heckled at one stage during his delivery yesterday morning, Fr Hegarty said: “I believe that Shell has sought to fulfil the requirements of Irish, European and international environmental laws in its planning, construction to date and proposed operation of the development.”

Noting the project’s strategic importance for Erris, Mayo, and Ireland, he said: “I also believe that, particularly from late 2005 onwards, the company has shown a willingness to be a good neighbour and contribute positively to the community.”

Fr Hegarty said he believed the vast majority of those in the Erris community supported the development.

“I know there are sincere people among the protesters. I believe, however, their fears about the safety of the pipeline have been grossly inflated by the sulphurous rhetoric of those who wish to prevent the delivery of the gas on ideological grounds.

“I also sense that some of those opposed to the development abhor the extreme tactics of a minority of their group.

“The main thing that gives me confidence about the human and the environmental safety of the Corrib gas development is that there are stringent Irish, European Union and international laws and directives governing planning applications,” Fr Hegarty said.

The resumed planning appeals board hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and will deliberate on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a special area of conservation. It will also examine compulsory acquisition orders by Shell for access to lands along this newly modified route – the third proposed by the developer.

Solicitor Paul Brennan made a submission on behalf of local farmer and postman John Barrett, whose home “was almost destroyed” during the devastating 2003 landslide on Dooncarton mountain. “The [Barrett] family is concerned that the pipeline tunnels [proposed under nearby Sruwaddacon Bay] and other works close to their home could cause further landslides during the construction stage and into the future,” Mr Brennan said.

Supporting the project on behalf of Belmullet GAA, John Gallagher, chairman, argued that the stringency applied by Shell in its funding schemes challenged the veracity of any notion that the company had tried to buy the support of local organisations.

The hearing continues today.

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