Friday, 27 April 2007

Corrib gas hearing warned on bias

The "demonisation and vilification" of the people of Erris, along with the
continued large presence of gardaí, militated against the Environmental
Protection Agency's oral hearing forming an objective decision, the hearing
was told yesterday.
On the seventh day of the hearing into the issuing of an integrated pollution
prevention licence for the Corrib gas refinery, Seán Harrington - who is
objecting to the licence - suggested to the chairman, Frank Clinton, that since
he was "only human", he was bound to be influenced by such factors.
"In certain sections of the press we have been demonised and called such
pejorative names as aboriginals, pseudo-intellectuals and druids. Last week's
High Court decision [ in which Shell was ordered to pay costs of about €1
million] and the environmental award received by Willie Corduff have totally
exonerated the Rossport Five," said Mr Harrington. He said local people were
intimidated by the large Garda presence in the mornings and by the fact that
two plain-clothes gardaí attended the hearing.
"This is no longer an engineering problem, this is an international human
rights issue," he added.
Mr Clinton said that since, as far as he was aware, the gardaí were clients of
the hotel, he would not wish to deprive them of their breakfasts.
"I will not seek to bring any influence to bear on the Garda presence here," he
said. However, he did say that he had conveyed an earlier complaint to an onduty
Mr Harrington also asked if Shell could confirm that there was any quarrying
activity at Bellanaboy; if so, had it the necessary consents, and did it intend
depositing the material that it is at present depositing in a Bord na Móna
cutaway bog, 11 kilometres from Bellanaboy, on site. He was alluding to the
site's location in a drinking-water catchment for 10,000 people and the
increased potential for run-off.
In reply, senior counsel for Shell Esmonde Keane said "the development was
proceeding according to the planning permission obtained", which did include
the movement of material around the site. Mr Keane also confirmed no
concrete was being manufactured on site and it was being supplied by a local
Mr Keane strongly challenged a contention by Dr Dave Aldridge, a military
systems engineer and an expert witness for the Friends of Rossport, that "the
proposal to store 3,627 tons of methanol at Bellanaboy in close proximity to
houses and release upwards of 1,800 tons per year into the environment
could lead to another Bhopal here in Co Mayo". He argued that Dr Aldridge
had made "an incredible quantum leap" in his assumption that under certain
temperatures and conditions, such as a breach of pipes, the liquid methanol
would transform into a toxic and potentially fatal vapour cloud.
Dr Aldridge said he was referring to "the worst-case scenario". The chairman
said "major accident scenarios" were outside the hearing's parameters.
Áine Ryan
© Irish Times

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