TWO GOVERNMENT Ministers have described as "very constructive" a series of discussions on the controversial Corrib gas project held with politicians and community groups in Ballina, Co Mayo.
Minister for Energy Éamon Ryan and Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív described the talks yesterday as a "exercise in listening" and said they would be reflecting on what they had heard.
Mr Ryan said that uppermost in his mind were "the principles of safety and equity" and this was an "opening gambit" in an effort to reach resolution on the issue.
Mr Ó Cuív said separate sessions with the various groups represented "the right format at this time", but gave no indication of the content of the discussions.
Community groups Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal Le Chéile, who have backed a priests' proposal to relocate the Corrib gas refinery to a coastal site at Glinsk, were given the first hearing in the Ramada Hotel, Ballina.
Representatives of the Council for the West, Pro-Gas Mayo and the Pro Erris Gas Group attended a separate session, followed by representatives of Shell to Sea.
Several local fishermen, including Pat O'Donnell, who has environmental concerns over the project's impact on Broadhaven Bay, and Fr Michael Nallen were also given a hearing, although they had not been invited originally.
Politicians and councillors who met the Ministers in one session included Michael Ring (Fine Gael), John O'Mahony (Fine Gael) Beverley Flynn (Fianna Fáil), Dara Calleary (Fianna Fáil) and Senator John Carty (Fianna Fáil).
Mr Ring told The Irish Times that no specific proposals were put by the Ministers.
"I just hope that they keep the momentum going now," Mr Ring said. "Everyone knows what the problems are, and it is how to resolve them that is the issue."
Council for the West chairman Seán Hannick, who accompanied representatives from the Pro-Gas Mayo and Pro-Erris Gas Group at the hearings, said the talks were an opportunity to voice views to the Ministers responsible for the project and for the area.
Pobal Chill Chomáin spokesman John Monaghan and Pobal Le Chéile chairman Ciarán Ó Murchú said they "warmly welcomed the process of engagement".
"We see this as acceptance by the Government that there are serious problems surrounding the project that require urgent attention. The suspension of works on the offshore pipeline offers a window of opportunity to finally bring the long-running conflict to an end. The siting of an inland gas refinery at Bellanaboy represents an unnecessary risk to health and safety and is the root cause of all the difficulties surrounding Corrib."
Significantly, both groups said they would "work with all parties, including Shell, Statoil and Marathon, to help deliver a safer solution for the people of Erris".
Shell to Sea spokeswoman Maura Harrington described the talks as an "exercise in futility" and said that if the two Ministers believed they could "tweak what was wrong eight years ago", they were mistaken.
Shell to Sea is looking for a full independent review of the project, as promised by the Green Party before it entered government.
Shell E P Ireland said it welcome the initiative taken by the Ministers. "The work currently being undertaken on the Corrib gas project has all the necessary consents and permissions required by the various statutory bodies which oversee the project," the company said in statement. "We remain open and willing to talk to any individuals or groups who have concerns about our project.
The Irish Times