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Corrib coverage should come with more balance

Fr Kevin Hegarty

In the John Millington Synge play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, the hero, Christy Mahon regales three awed young women with the dramatic and false story of how he killed his father. Susan responds that it is a ‘grand story’ to which Honor says, ‘he tells it lovely’.

I believe that some local media commentators indulged in some Christy Mahon style of lurid embroidery in their coverage of the lorry bound for the Corrib Gas terminal at Bellanaboy which got stuck at Glenamoy junction. To me, it seems as if they did a partisan trawl of the Corrib archive to cast doubts on the overall integrity of the project.

Words like ‘debacle’ and ‘farce’ were thrown about as indiscriminately as confetti at a wedding on a windy day.

The headline on Liamy Mc Nally’s column in this newspaper ran ‘Corrib debacle continues, The Western People editorial claimed that Shell has ‘been allowed to effectively flout the planning laws in Erris during the past decade’.

Flout is a loaded word. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘treat or behave with disdain, mock, jeer, express contempt by action or speech, to openly disregard a law or an opinion’.

The editorial further asserts that the Corrib Project has been ‘railroaded through the planning and legal processes’.

The reality is that the project has undergone the most protracted and forensic examination by the planning authorities in the 90 year history of the Irish State.

Joe Murray of Action from Ireland (AFRI) joined in the chorus of condemnation. AFRI proclaims that its brief is to highlight injustice and breaches of human rights throughout the world. I would have thought that it would find more to do than comment on a manufactured crisis in North Mayo. May I commend for its attention the plight of Christians in Syria, pertinently detailed in William Dalymple’s account in last Tuesday’s London Times?

The reaction was grossly out of proportion to what happened in Glenamoy on Tuesday, July 31.

Let us look at the salient facts. A truck, carrying part of a tunnel boring machine got stuck at the crossroads. ‘Fionnuala’, as the tunnel boring machine has been named, is not a weapon of mass destruction. Its purpose is to construct a tunnel under Sruwaddacan Bay to provide for the safe delivery of their gas from the Corrib Field.

By Friday the truck had been freed. Efforts to do so earlier had been hampered by the activities of anti-Corrib protestors.

It was an unfortunate incident. It was embarrassing for Shell in that it gave an opportunity to those among the protestors who have majored in the practice of ridicule to display their sad skills.

In his ‘Mail on Sunday’ column, Joe Duffy stated that ‘Shell to Sea’ protestors seemed ‘to revel’ in the misfortune of the truck driver. I believe that any fair-minded person, for or against the project, would find this distasteful. It is a lapse in the courtesy usually to be experienced in Erris by those in distress.

What was also missing from last week’s coverage was any recognition of the economic benefits that the Corrib project has brought to Erris. I live there so I am well aware of them.

Shell expenditure has moderated the effects of our lengthy recession on the community. At the height of the construction phase of the terminal at Bellanaboy over 1400 were employed on the project. There are still well over 500 working on it. Shops, hotels, restaurants and other ancillary services have benefited considerably. House rentals are at a premium.

Young people have attained skills working on different aspects of the project that will stand them in good stead in the future. Last week I met a young man who told me that his experience at Bellanaboy had opened a career opportunity for him elsewhere in Ireland. He is one of many.

Shell has also been supportive of community initiatives in the barony. Since 2007 over €5 million has been committed to funding three programmes – the local Grants programme, the Third Level Scholarship programme and the long-term Erris Development Fund. By the end of this year over 60 students will have received scholarships under the third level programme. The scholarships are valued at €4,000 per year for the duration of their degree course. Applications are assessed by an independent board of which I am a member. In all Shell has funded 155 Community projects or institutions throughout Erris. I doubt if any of the many people involved in them see the company as an alien or oppressive force, flouting laws and behaving with impunity.

May I suggest that journalists interested in a balanced perspective talk to some of them. Concern for Erris, for the care of its landscape and the economic and social sustainability of its community, is not confined to or the copyright of the small minority opposed to the Corrib Gas project.


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