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Appeal to All Irish Environmental Campaigns
Friday October 20, 2006 14:12 by Miriam Cotton - Friends of the State
Tara! CHASE! Bantry! Waterford! Dun Laoighre & Others
On this day of action in county Mayo, this article is submitted to make the case for all objectors to contentious building schemes throughout Ireland to set aside their own campaigns for the time being and join with Shell to Sea in their efforts to have the Corrib gas refinery sited at sea. This issue could hardly be more serious in the precedent that is being set for the government response to public protest over public and commercial planning activities everywhere. It is not exaggerated to say that if current policing and media activities go unchallenged in respect of the Corrib gas project we will be walking with eyes wide open into a police state.
With the introduction of the Strategic Infrastructure Bill and the reverses in democratic participation that it embodies, the legislative framework for such a state is already partially in place. In this context, where Shell to Sea will go, other peaceful and democratic objections will follow: heavy-handed policing backed up by complicit media coverage whose aim is to invert the truth of what is happening. If this goes unchallenged, all we will be left with is the danger and the pollution, the despoliation of some of the most beautiful parts of the country and a handful of smug, newly made millionaires.
A prominent member of the Shell to Sea campaign has said he believes intelligence files are being gathered on behalf of Shell in respect of anyone who challenges the current Corrib Gas project. It is also believed that many phones are being tapped. A number of people have been told directly by the Gardai that they are being watched and one man has been told that his ‘number is up’. Garda cars have been parked outside the homes of some of the protestors for hours at a time. One protestor has been told by his employer that if he does not give it up, his job is on the line. Journalists – in both national and local papers - who have been prepared to write accurate accounts of what is happening have been leaned on to stop. Again’ it is not news but worth remembering that the smearing of Frank Connolly by Minister McDowell under cover of Dail privilege followed directly from the publication of his Centre for Public Inquiry’s publication of a damning report on the safety of this same project. It was alleged that Connolly had travelled on a false passport to Columbia in support of illegal IRA activity although no charges have ever been brought against him. Nevertheless, the philanthropist who was funding the CPI withdrew his support following a private audience with Bertie Ahern. These undemocratic methods of suppressing information and silencing objection are becoming increasingly blatant in Ireland and it is time, surely, for the Irish people to signal that they are no longer willing to submit to this treatment.
The issue is not just about the Corrib gas field, it is about all of the oil and gas finds off the west coast and the manner in which these finds will be got ashore. It is imperative that the foreign corporates involved are made to conduct their drilling and extraction in a way that will not damage significant parts of the west coast. Bear in mind that none of these companies would be allowed to do to the coast of the USA what they are being encouraged to do by our present government in Ireland. The Dunquin field alone, the licence for which was recently sold at a huge profit by Sir Anthony O’ Reilly to Exxon Mobil, is estimated to be worth Euro 500billion, of which he retains a 16% share – an accrual of personal wealth which dwarfs his entire business empire to date. The northern tip of the Slyne field – well number 27/5-1, is thought to be the most lucrative find of all – a massive oil field lies there said to be worth trillions. How is all this to be got ashore?
The Shell to Sea campaign is not about preventing the mining of gas in the Corrib field, it is about ensuring that it is done safely at sea so as neither to put the local community in danger nor to damage the countryside. This will cost Shell more, but only a fraction of the profit which would be made and the same principle needs to be applied to all of the other projects off our coastline.
It has also been alleged that the reason exploration licences were issued on such disadvantageous terms is that the fields off the west coast are difficult and dangerous to drill. Not so. In comparison to drilling taking place in the Shenzi field off the Louisiana coast, to give just one example, where the ocean goes to a depth of 7K feet and the well itself to a depth of 27K feet - drilling in the Corrib field, where the sea is just 200 meters deep, is the industry equivalent of ‘taking sand off a beach with a spade’. One Statoil representative has admitted, at an EPA oral hearing, that there is no technical difficulty or obstacle involved in mining the fields – the geological environment poses no problem beyond what is entirely normal.
And yet extreme technical difficulty is the reason cited for the undoing of established state policy which would have secured a 40/60 split between the Irish state and the drilling companies, respectively. The scale of the mismanagement involved might be partly explained by the fact that the Irish government appointed as its adviser a Mr David Fox, a man whose day job was advising exploration companies on how to secure the best possible terms from governments. As conflicts of interest go, this one is a real stinker. To this very day, no cost-benefit analysis for the state has been done by the Irish government for any of these multi-billion dollar projects.
In planning to push the commencement of building of the refinery through, it’s clear that a strategy had been devised in advance to intimidate the objectors and to ensure that media coverage was sympathetic to the commercial interests involved. Shell had lost the argument and were looking nasty having sent five people to jail. The hostile and inaccurate reporting from most of the media which accompanied the Garda action is hardly a coincidence. RTE coverage has been strikingly biased at times. For example, coverage of the press conference at Bellanaboy last Monday, at which five elected TDs were intimidated at close quarters by Garda filming – even while being filmed themselves by our national broadcaster – was atrociously unrepresentative of the actual event.
The shocking revelation by a local business man that he had been offered 15K Euro to support the Shell project and told that nobody would have to know anything about it, should have been at the top of the RTE news coverage and front page headline news in every national newspaper the following day. Instead it has passed by with barely a murmur. Ciaran Murphy, a former army officer and member of the Air Corp, stressed that this was the means by which Shell were attempting to divide the local community – with secret bribes. What additional pressures will have been brought to bear on the media? It is highly unlikely that Shell have been idle in that direction - or are the likes of Paul Williams only too pleased to prostitute themselves to foreign corporates at the expense of his fellow Irish citizens? Kevin Myers has long since descended into a complete parody of the ranting buffoon that he is, but he excelled even himself in recommending a baton charge in Bellanaboy. And what, as ever, about the newspapers owned by Sir Anthony? ‘Independent’? Hardly, as we are all so weary from pointing out.
Aware perhaps of the damage that Ciaran Murphy’s testimony could do to their scheme, Minister Noel Dempsey went about some negative spinning later that day to the effect that the Shell to Sea campaign had proved more difficult to bring to mediation than Gerry Adams and Ian Paisely – a distortion of the truth and a comparison that seems calculated to resonate with the past violence of the Northern Irish situation. In fact, this appears to be the favoured smearing theme of the Shell/government agenda. Shell to Sea have also been accused of being hijacked by Provo sympathisers – a completely unfounded accusation. Shell to Sea have met seven times with the government appointed mediator, Mr Cassells, despite their misgivings about the severely limited terms of that mediation. The central safety concerns have not been adequately addressed – despite the claims of government and Shell to the contrary and the relatively minor concessions that they were forced to make previously. This tactic of offering essentially false mediation in these situations is a well-worn one, whose only objective is to paint the objectors into a corner where they appear unreasonable. Now we have also heard from Minister Dempsey that he and others have received death threats. Frankly, that claim is simply not credible if it is being suggested that Shell to Sea are responsible. The only violence in this situation has been the violence dealt to the protestors – not the other way around.
At one of the regular Shell to Sea meetings held last Sunday night it was a striking experience to witness how composed and constructive local people were in the face of the physical and media violence that is now being done to them and their community. They are adamant that they will do nothing to discredit themselves and are understandably offended at what Shell and the government are now doing and also at how they are being portrayed in the media.
Will Shell to Sea in Mayo re-invigorate the democratic process or will it be the death knell of all future civil involvement in the management of our natural resources and amenities? The exploration and other companies have only one simple point to take on board: that they must conduct their business without endangering or destroying local communities. They have simply to invest what would be a tiny fraction of their profit (even at a couple of billion dollars) to secure the harmonious outcome that Shell to Sea and the people of County Mayo are anxious to see. If our government have conducted themselves foolishly in this matter, let the people of Ireland show these circling corporate sharks that we will be treated with the respect we deserve, after all.
For more information about Shell to Sea, visit their website at this link: