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Corrib Gas Dispute: Statement by Maura Harrington to An Bord Pleanála hearing

The following is a statement from Maura Harrington (right), a spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign, from County Mayo, Ireland. A recently retired school principal (of Inver National School).

On 12 October 2006 Harrington sustained head and neck injuries while Gardaí cleared demonstrators blocking an access road used by Shell workers.

On 9 September 2008 she began a hunger strike in protest at the arrival of the Solitaire, an Allseas pipe-laying ship assisting Royal Dutch Shell‘s Corrib gas project. (This introduction includes extracts from the Wikipedia article “Maura Harrington“)


I am a 57 year old woman (56 when this hearing re-convened – and no wishes from the Applicant please) who has made a successful transition from the middle of the twentieth century into the second decade of the twenty first century. I enjoyed the benefit of a boarding school education through considerable sacrifice by my parents and spent 35 years of my life as an employee of the State. Given that, I would be expected to subscribe to a mindset that gives uncritical support to the ill defined notion of ‘Progress’ which accepts this application by Shell as a ‘good thing’; I ought to consider the people of Kilcommon an ill-informed lot of Luddites living in the past – ‘didn’t they object to the electricity when it was coming in’, they’re ‘only’ country people and they’ll be impressed when their betters show a bit of interest in them – a few bob should see them onside; I ought to look askance at the people of Rossport Solidarity Camp – good for nothing anarchist spongers who come ‘from outside’ like the swallows to create trouble (of course RDS plc personnel, Tibor Revez and others in IRMS are of sound local stock – all seed, breed and generation of them!); I ought to read the O’Reilly (Providence Resources plc) press and tut tut over the puppet masters from every paramilitary group that ever was – and then some – who are controlling that subversive Shell to Sea lot with that mad old bat of a teacher ranting on about stuff, troglodyte scum the lot of them! Well, Mr Nolan, I don’t wear a bow tie and I fail the ‘in the box’ test!

There were 50 Observer oral submissions made to the Board in this resumed OH – 44 asking for rejection of this application, 6 supporting the applicant. That type of support for this ill conceived imposition is in line with all polls taken to date on Corrib; an online poll conducted by the Connaught Telegraph during the course of this hearing ‘corrib-gas-pipeline-are-you-in-favour?’ gave the not unexpected result of 23.6%Yes; 76.4% No. In order for any process to claim legitimacy and maintain the goodwill of all participants there must be égalité des armes in reality and in perception. Here we have the applicant, Shell who enjoys representation by SC and presents a phalanx of experts in support of their application. We all know it is possible to obtain legal representation and employ a phalanx of experts with an equal and opposite view. One must have considerable financial resources to do that – collectively we do not have those financial resources and the state’s refusal to properly implement the Aarhus Convention puts us in an unequal position. That said, our own specialist expertise honed from Place over time and an exponential learning curve for the past ten years has, at times, wiped the floor with the pro forma testimony of many of these experts but because this process is skewed towards experts with accompanying CVs we are once again placed in a position of inégalite. I repeat my apology to you Mr. Nolan as Chairperson of this hearing for at times making your life more difficult than it already is; I make no apology to those whom I call local quislings who presume that they can ‘deliver’ Sruth Fada Conn for short term personal financial gain or as a bitter exercise in self-aggrandisement underpinned by thwarted ambition which has led to ethical degradation or for a mess of pro-am pottage. I take exception to your comments to me and others about democracy, free speech, respect and all those resonant principles that are so easy to articulate in the civilised setting of a hotel meeting room. I and many others have long experience of the disgusting underbelly of state/corporate viciousness in their dealings with local people and national/international supporters – on the ground in Erris and through summary ‘justice’ at District and Circuit Courts with access to trial by a jury of my peers denied. In that context I deplore your ruling not to accept a copy of ‘Breakdown in Trust: A Report on the Corrib Gas Dispute’ written by Brian Barrington BL, published by Front Line (an NGO which has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN and observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights) on the grounds that it wasn’t relevant to this hearing. It is intrinsic to any consideration of planning in the context of proper planning and sustainable development.

Following the BP/Transocean/Cameron/Halliburton/US Dept Interior MMS disaster in the Gulf of Mexico I note that BP is now spinning that so much has been learnt from that disaster which will improve offshore drilling; BP also spins that if they are banned from drilling they won’t be able to pay the costs of their devastation!! Nobody anywhere can claim the right to subject this Place to that potential future and I claim every right to defend this Place from such an imposition – not for any personal gain but to preserve the integrity of Sruth Fada Conn and environs for the well being of those who will live in and visit this Place of Divine Beauty for at least seven generations after my death.

Condition 4 from ABP in relation to the refinery grant of permission (whereby ABP kicked into touch the difficult issue of the actual foundation of the flare stack in the refinery by way of condition to be arranged between the Applicant and the Local Authority) was ‘settled’ in a few hours by the ‘Hi Paddy’ email from Ms McLaverty Shell to Mr Paddy Mahon MCC; it joins the ‘Dear Brian’ letter (from then Minister Frank Fahy to EEI MD Mr Ó Catháin) in the list of ‘consents’ claimed by the Applicant. Should the Board consent to this proposed excrescence I ask for a last vestige of honesty – scrap any conditions attached thereto ‘in the interest of proper planning and sustainable development’; it would be a waste of time and trees.

The Applicant cannot have it both ways; they have attempted at all times, through their SC, to constrain our comments to this section of pipeline. It has been established here from Mr. Costello that Corrib begins to decline after 3 years (07 Sept 2010); Mr. Keane stated, same date that one, and I quote ‘couldn’t say for certain (the tunnel) would never be used for other pipelines’. The word ‘conduit’ was used in relation to the tunnel – this application before the Board is not for a conduit for probable extension for future finds – it is an application under the strictures of the SIA which must be examined on its own merits/dismerits. By that criterion it fails dismally. The Board’s direction to exclude examination of the refinery and offshore wells except in so far as they have a bearing on this application is patently unjust and has placed an invidious obligation on Mr. Nolan, Mr. Wright, An Taisce and all others who participated in the Hearing seeking refusal of this application. We are none of us fools – for those of us who live in Praeger’s ‘Great Bogs of Erris’ it can be truly said that we didn’t come down in the last shower! From the beginning, the reality of this application is essentially simple – there will or will not be an expanding petrochemical complex at Ballinaboy served by a tunnel large enough to accommodate other oil and gas pipelines. In that regard the Applicant informed this hearing that the transmission tariffs through the BGE pipeline would offset the costs of building that pipeline; the corollary to that is twofold: this proposed upstream pipeline would be under the control and management of the Applicant who would of course charge tariffs on its use by other companies which means that the Applicants costs would very easily be offset and it would also hold a control position as corporate owner of a production transmission pipeline – with what implications for competition law? The fact that the Applicant has expended an infinitesimal percentage of its parent company’s annual net profit on building a refinery and laying an offshore section of pipeline is neither here nor there; it remains a matter solely for the Applicant’s shareholders and the Board would be well advised to ignore it – because at NO time since its inception has the proper planning and sustainable development of the proposed project been assessed as a whole under SIA or SEA.

It is a Shell fiction that this application before the Board is simply to service one gas refinery on 40 acres within a 500 acre site at Ballinaboy; that the field development is dependent on a 20” pipe through a 165” tunnel because that is the only diameter tunnel that will save the integrity of Sruth Fada Conn – which was perfectly integral until discovered by Shell. It has been established at this hearing that, at max output (350mmscfpd) from the refinery the 1TCF of Corrib reserves would provide 60% of the country’s energy needs for 7/8 years; only at minimum output (100mmscfpd) could the stated life of the field per the EIS last for 20 years thereby providing just 20% of the country’s energy needs. That said those figures do not take account of the fact that neither this nor any previous hearing has established a commitment by the Applicant on its own or its partners’ behalf to guarantee that all of the Corrib reserves will be delivered – even at market price to this country. The only fact that was established in 2002 was that the Applicant had contracted to provide 60% of its 45% share to the Irish market. There is no evidence before the Board either from the 2002 oral hearings on the refinery or this hearing in 2009 and 2010 that contradicts the fact that 73% of the Corrib reserves remain un-contracted to the Irish market – even at full market rate. Now let’s go back to the 60% of 45% which accounts for only 27%of the stated reserves of Corrib. Now let’s consider the natural gas energy supply scenario at both max and minimum output from the refinery bearing in mind that only 27% of Corrib is committed by the Applicant to this state and then only if, in our current and future penury, we are in a position to pay the full market price for it. That means that, at max output,  27% of 60% would translate into 16.2% of Ireland’s natural gas usage for 7/8 years or at minimum output 27% of 20% would translate into just 5.4% of the country’s natural gas usage for a period of 20 years. Given that there is an aspiration that there would be a greater use of ‘clean green energy’ like natural gas in the future these percentages would be further eroded and could more correctly be forecast at 8% and 2.5%. Mr Keane has in fact gone some way to support this statement by his reference to EU competition law which would preclude a total commitment of Corrib reserves to this state and in fact further supports the view that Corrib and all subsequent finds are destined for the EU market where the wealthier states will be able to afford the inevitably rising price of a diminishing supply. And the Applicant, the Board and the state through DCENR have the gall to consider this of strategic importance to this state!!!

Any time an oral hearing has been held on Corrib issues the competency of local people has laid bare the formulaic response of the Applicant’s phalanx of experts. Individually and collectively we as observers have a more comprehensive data base specific to the proposed project in its entirety than the Applicant and its agents could ever hope to equal not to mind comprehensively address. That remains the case at the end of this hearing; the Applicant has not proven in a scientific way that its proposal to impose a Health, Safety and Environmental risk in an area where hitherto none existed is in any way compatible with proper planning and sustainable development. This may not be entirely the Applicant’s experts’ fault because, as many of them don’t live in or practice in this country they may have given their evidence under the mistaken assumption that stuff like mitigation, monitoring, regulation and enforcement actually functions in this country – it doesn’t! Given what we now know of the Banks debacle and ongoing posturings in that regard it is not conceivable that a mindset which supports a proper mitigation, monitoring, regulatory and enforcement regime is likely to evolve in this benighted state within the maximum proposed life of the Corrib reserves. It is a matter of record that an oral hearing was refused by the Board for the Appeal to ABP in respect of MCC grant of planning to the Applicant for a ‘new improved’ application for the refinery in 2004. This application was made following a Nuremberg style rally in Belmullet July 2003 attended by Eamon Ó Cuiv and Frank Fahy FFs from Galway, not attended by John Carty and Beverly Cooper Flynn FFs from Mayo and attended by every FFer from the Barony of Erris and beyond. In a manner reminiscent of the call of the Irish to Patrick many centuries ago it was nicely managed that a ‘call’ was arranged for Shell, as the Great White Hope to return, a cosy little arrangement which Shell made good use of in spin during fringe conversations with concerned Shell shareholders at its 2004 AGM and subsequently. Tom Botts, then head of Shell Europe E&P held a meeting with then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on 19 September 2003 (the date of the disastrous landslide at Glengad and environs) and requested ‘greater dialogue with the planning authorities, especially An Bord Pleanala’. Present at the expeditiously arranged meeting on 23 September 2003 were John O’Connor and Brian Hunt (then and now Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson respectively), chief officer Paul Mullaly and planning officer Tom O’Connor (both now retired), Andy Pyle Shell, Fergal Murphy Marathon (now Vermillion), Lief Arne Hoyland Statoil and Fergus Cahill IOOA. Also present at the meeting was Mr Diarmuid Collins (present at this hearing) who is now head of the Strategic Infrastructure Division in ABP, a division itself set up following legislative changes to the 2000 Planning Act first mooted following Mr. Kevin Moore’s report to the Board in April 2003 which made it impossible to grant planning (even with conditions) – and not forgetting that Shell’s request to the Board to prohibit Mr Moore from considering any aspect of this current application was granted and that the person who is now director of planning (anomalous possibly to Tom O’Connors’ previous post) in ABP is Mr Des Richardson who passed the refinery appeal, one cannot be called a conspiracy theorist when one offers the view that there is at least the perception abroad that there may be a not inconsiderable number of worms wriggling in that one can alone – and that’s only one can of many where the proposed Corrib Project is concerned! (the foregoing is largely from the CPI Report Nov 2005 – for which the messenger, Frank Connolly was metaphorically shot by then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell whose hissy fit saw to it that funding to the CPI from Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies was withdrawn thereby preventing publication of other investigations ongoing at the time and possible future investigations into planning in Ireland). Given that context and not forgetting the Shell CMD minutes of July 2002 and the contents of the Frontline report, Mr Nolan’s forceful guillotine on Mr Eoin Ó Leidhin’s line of questioning on lobbying, his curtailing of any real questioning on the strategic importance of Corrib to the state and his refusal to accept the Frontline report was, at best, unwise and leads this observer to believe that there was a lack of proper consideration of these issues at this hearing which precludes the Board from reaching a decision consistent with proper planning and sustainable development unless its integrity has already been somewhat compromised.

While the current brouha about enhanced ‘security risks’ in the geographical entity called the British Isles is more than likely an attempt by governments to divert citizens from dire economics, nevertheless such a scenario cannot be dismissed by the Board in its consideration of this application under the criteria of proper planning and sustainable development; neither can the Board set aside as a non credible scenario (even in a bow tie!) that the proposed production pipeline at Glengad (under the control and management of the Applicant which is a wholly owned subsidiary of its parent Royal Dutch Shell plc) could not or would not become the conduit for an energy supply source for Europe coming from what is thought – for the moment – to be a ‘politically stable’ region. Should that happen there is NO extant provision in this or the attached jurisdiction in law or in fact to safeguard the physical security of the proposed pipeline which would protect the citizens of Glengad and environs from the risk of attack from native and/or global forces with the capacity to blow things up who are antithetic to either this state, the interests of Royal Dutch Shell or the supply of energy to Europe. In fact the Board must accept that, should they allow this, they are complicit in using the people of the area as a buffer against possible terrorist attack which is unacceptable per any reasonable understanding of natural justice and can be neither granted nor conditioned in a manner consistent with proper planning and sustainable development. This hearing has on record Mr Costello referring to ‘security forces’ in relation to protecting the physical security of this section of pipeline; since there is no information before the Board that it is the intention of the state to deploy the army in that role and since the Applicant has not proved that there will be a comprehensive policing regime post construction – as opposed to the current ad hoc arrangement under the guise of a TMP – one must therefore take it that Mr Costello was referring to IRMS; the prospect of IRMS operating in Erris as a ‘security force’ (I believe they have replaced or shortly will replace Gilmore Security at the refinery and Fort Knox Security at the Animal Testing Centre next door) is neither pleasant nor desirable. Mr Keane took exception to reference to possible IRMS members as ‘thugs’ – I have eyeballed many of them in 2008/2009 and would agree with Mr Keane that ‘thugs’ is a misnomer – perhaps Les Affreux would be more appropriate.

To the degree that there is any transparency in the QRA process it is due to Mr Wright and cannot be claimed by the applicant as complying with the wishes/direction/invitation – or whatever semantics you’re having yourself Mr Nolan – of the Board. The volumes of stuff, particularly Appendix Q was opaque until Mr Wright’s questioning established that the Applicant did not consider the straight pipe option; could not consider getting rid of the LVI; could not or did consider using MAOP of 105 bar from well head to refinery; did not use their own NAM data base and anyway their own ‘experts’ screened out anything which, in their view, didn’t need to be there. I would like to try to address what Mr Nolan frequently referred to as ‘semantics’ on one point alone – that of the nature of reliance of the Applicant on the Board’s 02 Nov 2009 letter (the matter of whether or not that letter should have been written in the first place remains moot). On 08 Sept 2010 Mr Costello, in reply to Mr Wright’s ‘looking at the boundaries you looked at for risk analysis’ stated ‘All we had to work on was (the) ABP letter Nov ‘09’. Mr Keane followed up by reference to an ‘invitation to modify’. At the end of this hearing this issue remains muddied and therefore cannot hope to engender good will where it is most needed – not in gilded halls but on the ground in Erris. The contribution of people from the DoEHLG to this hearing was abject and shameful. Their uncritical and unverified acceptance of everything put before them by the Applicant was symptomatic of all that is wrong in this state and showed clearly how a craven subservience leads to disaster with long term consequences as evidenced by the Banks debacle. The Board must have due regard to the fact that lack of oversight and/or competent input from the relevant government departments in the matter of the proposed Corrib Project puts this state at risk of incurring further adverse judgements from the EU with the prospect of massive finds that the country simply afford to pay. The reliance of DoEHLG on information supplied to them by the Applicant was further shown up by the robust questioning of the Applicant’s prime witness on environment related matters Ms Neff by many observers. Ms Neff’s inability to produce verifiable proof to support her assertion that a machair system is conveniently absent from Glengad together with the production of two affidavits from a not unrelated court case seriously questions the scientific integrity of Ms Neff’s testimony to this hearing to the extent that the Board must satisfy itself that reliance on this testimony will not in the future lead to the state being exposed to the imposition of fines in the future from the EU. The fact that DoEHLG personnel were not present for all of the substantive questioning of Ms Neff and others makes any current and future contribution from them essentially irrelevant.

The abiding tenet of my opposition to the proposed Corrib Project has always been premised on the primacy of Place. It is Place that determines health, safety, clean air, water and soil, good food from land and sea, silence and sight of the night sky, existing levels of societal risk, camaraderie, community, a sense of belonging and being looked out for/cared for and so much more – all of which supports a sustainable cultural heritage that has absolutely nothing to do with bow ties or screened out QRAs. That explains in some part why there is such outrage at the Applicant’s formulaic approach to consultation and, Mr Nolan, your findings in regard to the relevance of observers’ questions. When Shell took over EEI Mr Pyle as MD of  EEI (which was awaiting baptism in crude as a flower-like sepil) published an open letter in the Western People 31 July 2002 which stated that he believed ‘firmly that this project should only proceed with proper engagement and discussion with the local community’. I replied to that letter offering Mr Pyle an ‘opportunity of meeting members of the local community in an open and transparent manner at a conference which can be convened at any time convenient to you and your team’. Mr Pyle replied on 09 Aug 2002 thanking me for ‘requesting’ a public meeting when in fact I had invited him and his team to a meeting!! He ‘would be happy to meet with two or three representatives of your group in the Bangor Erris office…’ I made a submission to Shell Group MD Phillip Watts through Fr Kevin O’Hara in Sept ’02. Throughout 2003 I spoke with and wrote to Mr Rob Colmer, Mr Robin Aram, Mr Costa and wrote directly to Philip Watts in Dec 2003. He replied, not having done what I did request which was to ensure that I got a copy of the then EIS before Christmas, but with his ‘best wishes for 2004’. Mr Watts best wishes weren’t reciprocated and both he and Shell had the overstatement of reserves issue in January of that year which showed that not only was the company at times economical with the truth to their stakeholders but they even misled their own shareholders. I spoke with Malcolm Brinded and Tom Botts at the 2004 Shell AGM in London. My paper trail with Shell finally ended in September 2004 on receipt of an anodyne letter from Jeroen van der Veer, then President RDS plc and Chairman CMD Royal Dutch/Shell. I spoke again at the 2005 Shell AGM in the Hague on the day before the Rossport 5 were jailed by the High Court for contempt at the request of Shell who at the same time decided that they would not add Bríd McGarry to their list because she was a woman. I made those efforts to provide an open forum for debate between Aug 2002 and Sept 2004 in good faith which was not reciprocated. In 2001 I organised, with Sr Majella McCarron a seminar entitled ‘Corrib Gas – Great Gas for whom?’ in the locality; none of the three oil/gas companies took up our invitation to attend or participate. Eventually, one puts on a hi viz and woolly hat and, in my own case, ends up in Mountjoy – that is the insidious reality anywhere when Big Oil comes calling trailing the ‘terrible ones’.

It is my informed argument to the Board that the Applicant is not a fit and proper person to be considered suitable for grant of planning to operate in the Place that is Erris. Mr Nolan, in accordance with his perception of reality, appears to be minded that this proposed project is somehow or other going to happen per this application and has made efforts to elicit ‘helpful suggestions’ from Mr King and other observers as to how it  might be mitigated, monitored and ‘CLOed’. My ‘helpful suggestion’ is that the Applicant and the Board finally listen to what is being said and has been said to them for the past ten years – we do not want this; it is not good for us and it will not be good for those who come after us when we are dead and gone (there is no word there with more than five letters or two syllables so what part of that can you not understand). I am indebted once again to the inimitable Alfred and John Donovan for a recent article on their excellent website which listed environmental, safety and controversial issues surrounding Shell of which, I repeat, the Applicant is a wholly owned subsidiary and which I will now read into the record prefaced by saying that you might call a pit bull cross Petal but that doesn’t mean you mightn’t get savaged by it (Donovan List).

We have had ten years of this – ten years in which we have not known peace, ease or comfort. It was with a sense of the surreal I learned during the hearing that the Board is using Room 101 in this hotel. We, the people of the proposed receiving environment, together with our national and international supporters have been in Room 101 for the past ten years and remain unbroken by the state/corporate nexus. The Board must have due regard to the fact that the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainability in the Aarhus Convention are not served by this application; neither has the Precautionary Principle been considered by anybody other than ourselves. The Board is being asked to set aside the principles of natural justice and grant a CAO to the Applicant in respect of small fields at Glengad. In that regard let the Board be in NO doubt that Laurence of Glengad WILL NOT BE LEFT TO STAND ALONE.

I asked for clarification today regarding the National Policy to which the Board must have regard in its consideration of this application, whether it was specific or subjective. I didn’t get that clarification. That being the case if the Board must take account of the views of a Taoiseach who is bewildered, a Minister for Science who has a leaning towards creationism and a Tanaiste and Minister for Education who doesn’t know her alma mater from her imprimatur then I think one could say that the Board could safely set aside any consideration of National Policy!

I salute the Place that is Sruth Fada Conn and environs. (When I retired after 35 years teaching in a school in Kilcommon Parish the staff of the school gave me a specially commissioned piece of jewellery – it’s the standing stones at Glengad. I salute the Place and the people of the Place who have attended here every day and those who would have wished to be here. I salute Rossport Solidarity Camp who represent the future and not the besuited past.

List Board members below, staff of Board and Mr Nolan

I say to all of you, in a final burst of good faith – I wish you the integrity of Mr Kevin Moore.

Members of the Board (Accessed 04 September 2010)
John O’Connor
Brian Hunt
Angela Tunney
Brian Swift
Jane Doyle
Karl Kent
Mary MacMahon
Conall Boland

(Click on links to read lists of items read into the record by Maura Harrington)




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