WATCHING THE WORLD: Corrib project issue persists

Nov. 20, 2006
Remember Shell’s efforts to bring natural gas to Ireland and efforts by protestors to stop them?

Remember Shell’s efforts to bring natural gas to Ireland and efforts by protestors to stop them? It’s a while since we’ve looked at that issue, but it’s still in the news, and the news is not good given the reports we see (OGJ, Dec. 19, 2005, p. 39).

Now, Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has entered the debate. Last week he said “the rule of law has to be implemented” and “the work goes on” at the Corrib gas terminal at Bellanboy in County Mayo.

Construction of the terminal and the route of an onshore pipeline to bring gas from offshore Corrib field have been strongly opposed by some local residents. Indeed, protests had been staged at the site every day since Oct. 2, when building resumed after lengthy consultations and a number of safety studies.

Police knock heads

Ahern, who was aware that Irish police had used batons against anti-Shell demonstrators on Nov. 10, defended his government’s actions. “The negotiations are over,” he said. “The work goes on. If there are those who try to frustrate that, they are breaking the law, and it is a matter for the gardai [police] to enforce that.”

Ahern added, “From the government’s point of view, that’s it.” But not everyone agrees with that view, especially Ahern’s political opponents.

The president of Ireland’s Labor party, Michael D. Higgins, said protestors in the north Mayo community have “genuine grievances” and insisted that Ahern was “distorting the facts” in relation to planning approval for the complete project.

He was one of several people who criticized the prime minister along with Justice Minister Michael McDowell for suggesting that the protestors, who operate under the rubric of the Shell to Sea campaign, have been infiltrated by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the militant Irish Republican Army.

Sinn Fein front?

“Yet again, in an entirely predictable tirade, Michael McDowell is trying to use the difficulties in Bellanaboy as an excuse to attack Sinn Fein,” said Vincent Wood, a member of the Shell to Sea campaign.

“In doing so, he is also misleading the public,” Wood wrote. “Michael McDowell claims that the Shell to Sea campaign is led by Sinn Fein. It is not. He does not have to take Sinn Fein’s word for it; he could take a trip to Mayo and ask the members of the Shell to Sea group who is running their campaign.”

Regardless of who is behind the Shell to Sea campaign, the protest came as a result of unwillingness to accept the government’s decision to move ahead with the project.

That decision came in late October, when Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey rejected requests for a new inquiry into alternative sites for the terminal, saying there was simply “no case” for any such inquiry.

Some people just don’t seem to want to know that.