"UNDOUBTED MISTAKES" have been made with the Corrib gas project, including a failure to consult adequately with the local community at the outset, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan has conceded. Had such consultation taken place at the outset, the project would not have reached the current stage of "chaotic development", he has said.
A "window of opportunity" has allowed the Government to step in and this is "not an initiative for its own sake", he told The Irish Times.
His Cabinet colleague, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív has also admitted to "mistakes", and has said that the new forum initiative aims to "obviate the need for deployment of gardaí in north Mayo".
The bill for Garda overtime to police the project has reached €11 million.
Late last month former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday criticised the "ugly" methods used by gardaí to control Corrib gas protesters.
Mr Ryan has confirmed that he met US pipeline expert Richard Kuprewicz in Dublin last month. Mr Kuprewicz, a pipeline accident investigator, is author of a critical report on the Corrib gas onshore pipeline for the former Centre for Public Inquiry.
Mr Ryan says he was "heartened" by Mr Kuprewicz's comments in relation to the value of dialogue, but says he cannot comment on the pipeline expert's recent advice on relocating the Corrib gas refinery.
In a report for Afri, the justice and peace organisation, this month Mr Kuprewicz said that Glinsk on the north Mayo coastline was a "vastly superior location option" on "health, safety and environmental" grounds than the existing location at Bellanaboy.
He said that "serious questions should be raised as to why this site was not evaluated when identifying site alternatives for possible consideration from the Corrib gas field". Shell EP Ireland has said that Glinsk is "not an option".
The Government will not revisit existing consents and permissions given to the project, Mr Ryan emphasised this week - although his own Green Party passed a motion last June stating that relocation of the Corrib gas refinery was the "only way to resolve the Corrib gas issue".
Mr Ryan says that he met this with a counter motion, agreed at national council level on September 27th last, which "encourages the Minister to continue to pursue a policy of open dialogue with all parties concerned".
The motion was tabled at national council level two days before Mr Ryan and Mr Ó Cuív travelled to Ballina to meet Mayo groups on the Corrib issue - the first such initiative since Government mediator Peter Cassells was appointed by former energy minister Noel Dempsey, with a limited mandate.
"I have been intimately aware and involved in the development of this project for many years," Mr Ryan said. However, he says his safety concerns were allayed by the Advantica safety review of the onshore pipeline, commissioned by Mr Dempsey.
"Now my position and that of the Government is that this project is good for Ireland," he said. North Mayo has significant energy potential beyond this project, he said.
"We've completed a study to build grid energy connection to the sea west of Belmullet. Also, there is huge wind energy potential. In my deliberations on this, it is clear that all sides never sat down together, the Government needed to intervene to provide leadership and facilitate healing and the benefits to the local community needed to be considered," Mr Ryan said.
The forum initiative is "worth a chance", Mr Ó Cuív said. "From a community point of view, it's an effort to bring the Government closer to the people in this situation. This is an effort to say we do care about everyday issues and life for the people who live here."
"Eamon Ryan brings a huge contribution to this - everyone would trust his bona fides and his credibility," Mr Ó Cuív added. The forum would "not be semi-detached", and would report regularly to the two Ministers, he emphasised.
The Irish Times