THE Government’s promise of a talks forum to resolve bitter disputes over the controversial Corrib gas project descended into chaos yesterday.
As the first hearing began behind closed doors, opponents of the north Mayo Shell development boycotted the meeting and instead organised their own get-together next door.
Shell to Sea accused Energy Minister Eamon Ryan of refusing to tackle mistakes made in the eight-year battle to open the off-shore gas field and coastal refinery.
Spokeswoman Maura Harrington claimed the forum would not address the real concerns.
“While Minster Eamon Ryan accepted that undoubted mistakes have been made in relation to this project, it seems that he doesn’t want these mistakes to be discussed and corrected,” she said.
“This forum is not allowed to address the health concerns of the people of the area, the unsuitability of Bellanaboy as a refinery site or the great giveaway of our gas and oil.
“This media event tries to intrinsically link Shell’s Corrib gas with the proper and sustainable development of the northwest Mayo region. Not only is no link possible, they are mutually exclusive,” said Ms Harrington.
The first meeting of the Government-backed forum was held in a Belmullet hotel.
Mr Ryan and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Éamon Ó Cuív attended the meeting and insisted the Shell development would go ahead as planned.
Anti-Corrib campaigners Pobal Cill Comainn and Pobal Le Cheile also refused to join the forum.
Former senior civil servant Joe Brosnan — a member of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission — heads up the forum.
Managing director of Shell E&P Ireland, Terry Nolan, also attended.
An Garda Síochána, several government departments, local community groups, Shell and workers’ representatives, Mayo County Council and some state agencies will all be involved in the talks.
Shell to Sea’s Terence Conway added: “We have been seeking proper dialogue for eight years now, and the only dialogue the Government have sent our way, is the boot and the baton of An Garda Síochána.”
Mr Ryan claimed Corrib would help turn north Mayo into an energy hub for the country.
“Northwest Mayo has the best resources in Ireland,” Mr Ryan said.
“Renewable and gas energy go hand in hand.
“I believe that development of these resources will bring long-term and sustainable economic development to Mayo.”