CORRIB GAS: MINISTER FOR Energy Pat Carey has staunchly defended his decision to sign, on the day of the general election, key consents for the last section of the Corrib gas pipeline.
He said the decision was part of an eight-month process and taken after very comprehensive assessment and legal advice, including from the Attorney General.
He said this was not the end of the process and the media and other critics should read the letter of consent and the conditions attached before casting judgment. He said the conditions are very comprehensive and very strict.
The decision has been condemned by representatives of the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party and United Left Alliance. Residents opposed to the pipeline in north Mayo have also criticised the decision. Asked about the signing on the day of the election, the Minister said it was “the only day I was reasonably free”.
He insisted this was “absolutely not done on a whim. At a political cost to myself, I took a lot of time to read over four very large folders” about the issue. “I read every single submission,” he said.
Mr Carey said the signing was just one more stage in a process and a judicial review was expected and that would deal with all the issues.
He said the fact that it was not politically popular to make such a decision did not make it wrong.
The Green Party confirmed that a recommendation on the consent application by Shell EP Ireland to construct the pipeline under the Gas and Petroleum Acts had not arrived on the desk of then minister for energy Eamon Ryan before he left office.
Last week Éamon Ó Cuív, who took over the environment portfolio from John Gormley, also said the foreshore licence had not come before him.
Mr Carey said the issue had been ongoing for eight months. His department said the applications were received on May 31st, 2010 from Shell EP Ireland Limited, acting on behalf of the Corrib gas partners. The assessment included two periods of public consultation and expert assessment.
Fine Gael energy spokesman Leo Varadkar said Mr Carey had contacted the party on Monday to inform it of his decision.
Mr Varadkar said the signing “is largely a formality. It shouldn’t come as surprise and obviously there’s going to be a judicial review”.
He added that “the State stands to gain at least 25 per cent of profits from Corrib and the sooner the gas is brought ashore, the sooner that money can be used to fund essential services”.
An Taisce has described as “very disappointing” the decision by the outgoing Minister to sign the consents.
An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith said it was public knowledge that the environmental organisation was seeking a judicial review of the recent An Bord Pleanála decision to approve the new pipeline route, as it ran through a special area of conservation.
“This legal challenge relates to An Bord Pleanála specifically, as we believe it breaches several EU directives. However, it is very disappointing that the Department of Energy would sign off on this consent at this point,” Mr Stanley-Smith said.
Labour Party president Michael D Higgins, who has condemned Mr Carey’s action, said there should be full transparency on any communication between the department and any interested parties both before and since the general election was called.
Shell has confirmed it received the consents and, within hours of the department confirming the signing, the international energy press welcomed it as a “final approval”. However, a foreshore licence is still required from the Minister for the Environment, currently Éamon Ó Cuív, before work can start on the €100 million tunnel for the pipe through Sruwaddacon estuary linking the landfall at Glengad to the terminal built at Ballinaboy.
Pobal Chill Chomáin spokesman John Monaghan, representing community interests in Erris opposed to the pipeline, described the signing as a “cowardly act by Mr Carey”.
The letter of consent and attached conditions can be read on the Department of Energy’s website dcenr.gov.ie