THE STATE’S “unprecedented” use of law and order forces against “its own citizens” while protecting private commercial interests augurs badly for a remote community in north Mayo and for the State as a whole, a Bord Pleanála hearing was told yesterday.
John Monaghan of the community group Pobal Chill Chomáin was speaking on the penultimate day of the public hearing into the controversial Corrib gas hearing.
During an extended session in Belmullet yesterday, various interest groups and observers, for and against the project, made their closing remarks. Esmonde Keane SC is due to close proceedings today on behalf of Shell.
“This application by Shell EP Ireland Ltd . . . to construct an upstream gas pipeline is only the most recent episode in arguably the most contentious issue to affect this island outside the Troubles,” Mr Monaghan argued.
“At no other time in the history of this State have private interests so clearly invaded the realm of the common good, and the unprecedented use of the State’s security and armed forces against its own citizens should be properly recorded as a dark development that does not bode well for the future of this community, or this country,” Mr Monaghan said.
Referring to the fallout from an ethos of “light regulation”, Micheál Ó Seighin said: “In a weak regulatory environment lacking in political will, a commercial entity will bleed every contradiction for its benefit and to the detriment of the citizen, if that is what it is allowed to do.”
Echoing these concerns, Ciarán Ó Murchú of Pobail le Chéile said: “In the recent Freefall documentary on the current economic and banking crisis, a combination of factors was cited as the main reason for our current precarious economic position.”
He argued these same factors – weak political leadership, the strong lobby influence of commercial developers and a failure of regulatory authorities to act in the best interests of the State and the people – led to the Corrib controversy. The resumed planning appeals board hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and is deliberating on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a conservation area.
Speaking on behalf of six local contractors, Sean Keane, of Artec Construction Ltd, made a submission on behalf of six local contractors employed by Shell.
“Having worked with Shell for the past number of years on the project, we as a group would like to assure you, inspector, that if the standards of health and safety and environmental and work procedures experienced by us on all aspects of the project are a benchmark, we would have no concerns.”
Parish priest of Kilmore-Erris, Fr Kevin Hegarty, said his regular attendance at the hearing further confirmed his faith in the project. “In my original submission I said that I had come to the conclusion over the last few years that this project is safe and environmentally sensitive. The applicant has been guided by stringent Irish, European and international standards in its design and development.”
Attracta Uí Bhroin argued on behalf of An Taisce that Shell had not “credibly demonstrated” either the strategic or sustainable basis for the project.
“The argument that Corrib constitutes 60 per cent of Ireland’s demand has been advanced. It remains to be seen if it will ever approach anything approaching that of Ireland’s supply,” she said.
Ciarán Ó hÓbáin, from the petroleum affairs division of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, cited the conclusion of safety consultant Peter Waite of Entec: “The assessment carried out on the proposed design, as described in the submission, leads Entec to conclude that there are no significant reasons on grounds of public safety reasons for refusing to grant a consent to construct the Corrib pipeline on the basis of both absolute separation from dwellings and the extremely low level of risk presented by the pipeline.”