Wednesday 19 November 2008

State and Shell ask court to halt action

THE STATE and Shell E and P Ireland Ltd have asked the High Court to halt an action by local residents alleging that ministerial consents given six years ago for the Corrib gas pipeline breached European law and the principles of natural and constitutional justice.

In the latest stage of a long-running action relating to the pipeline, the State and Shell want the court to strike out proceedings in which four residents are seeking High Court declarations that Shell has no interest in lands acquired under compulsory acquisition orders (CAOs) issued in 2002 by the then minister.

The residents also want declarations that the minister had acted in breach of the principles of natural and constitutional justice, and in breach of European law, by giving consent for those CAOs.

The Minister and Shell, in a preliminary application which opened yesterday before Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, want the court to dismiss the residents’ case as it was brought outside the time limits for such cases.

The proceedings first arose in 2005 when Shell successfully obtained contempt of court orders against five men, known as the Rossport Five. The men spent 94 days in prison after refusing to abide by an order not to interfere with the pipeline work.

Shell later discontinued its proceedings saying it would seek an alternative route, but residents, including members of the Rossport Five, want to proceed with a counter-claim alleging the minister’s CAOs approving the pipeline route were not valid.

In their claim, the residents – Philip McGrath, James Philbin, Willie Corduff and Bríd McGarry argue that the CAOs were acquired under the wrong statutory provisions. They also claim that both Shell and the State are attempting to prevent issues from being determined by the High Court in an effort to “protect illegal acts” from judicial scrutiny.

They say any consent by the minister under the Gas Act 1976 to allow access to the land was based on a number of “fundamental” conditions, including that the route of the pipe was to be fixed so as to ensure a minimum distance of 70 metres between it and inhabited dwellings. They claim the route goes within 70 metres of such houses.

The residents also claim Shell failed to comply with a condition of ministerial approval that a full assessment of the effect of leaks or a rupture should first be carried out. An environmental management plan should also have been drawn up and approved by the minister before consent was given, but this was not complied with, it is claimed.

Issues relating to the impact of noise on properties within 100 metres of the pipe were also not complied with, they claim.

The residents also claim they were not put on notice of the application by Shell to seek ministerial consent so they could make representations about the danger of the pipeline.

The State has denied the claims. The hearing continues today.

The Irish Times

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