ARCHIVE: Prominent Shell to Sea activist to oversee Corrib project

[ This article was first published on Indymedia Ireland on June 16th, 2007 ]

June 16th, 2007: Following several years of campaigning with the Shell to Sea campaign, Green Party TD Eamonn Ryan has been appointed to the ministry with responsibility for the Corrib Gas project in Co Mayo. By William Hederman

Eamon Ryan at a Shell to Sea protest outside Leinster House in January 2006. Copyright: William Hederman

On Thursday (June 14th, 2007), Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appointed Ryan to the new portfolio of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, where his brief will include overseeing the controversial Corrib Gas project. Ryan’s fellow Shell to Sea campaigners will be watching with interest to see how he proceeds with Corrib. At their conference in February 2007, the Green Party adopted a resolution that, in government, it would not sign a pipeline consent for the Corrib gas project until “a full, independent review” had been conducted into the project.

Ryan’s Shell to Sea colleagues may not be encouraged by the early signs. On the morning (Thursday) before his ministerial appointment, Eamon Ryan was a guest on the Today with Pat Kenny radio show (with stand-in presenter Tom McGurk). A listener asked whether the Greens would adhere to this resolution. Ryan replied that the party’s negotiators had not succeeded in getting the full, independent review of Corrib into the programme for government worked out with Fianna Fail.

Here is his response in full: “The first and primary thing is that there has to be an EPA approval in terms of the licensing there – the project requires that. Also, the whole consent process for the, I think, eight alternative pipeline routes has to be gone through and that will be what we have to process. I don’t believe, or we weren’t able to agree, the possibility of such a widespread review of the whole project, but I think what we will try and do is ensure that the process and the licensing and consent process goes through in as open and as consultative a manner as is possible.”

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent has been another prominent Shell to Sea campaigner. On October 24th, 2006, he took part in the pre-dawn protest at the site of Shell’s proposed inland refinery at Bellanaboy, accompanied by the Green Party Mayor of Galway, Niall Ó Brolcháin. They both made speeches at the refinery gates.

Trevor Sargent at Shell to Sea conference in November 2006. Copyright: William Hederman

A month later Sargent took part in a Shell to Sea press conference in Dublin, where he said his party “supports the call for an independent commission as proposed by the Shell to Sea campaign”. He blamed the controversy on “the giveaway deals for exploration licences” which he said were “comparable, in historic terms, with the Act of Union of 1800, in the way a dodgy deal can be made to look legitimate.”

In late 2006, a meeting of the National Council of the Green Party passed a policy calling for “the 1992 terms governing oil and gas exploration in Ireland’s waters to be redrafted to give the State more security of hydrocarbon supply and a revenue/royalty percentage from such finds.”

A message on the Green Party website in December 2005 stated that the party was urging “all members of the Green Party … to support and join the Shell to Sea Campaign”, and was “pressing for the gas to be refined at sea … We must continue our efforts in support of this campaign which has every chance of success.”

The record shows that over the past two years Eamon Ryan has been diligent in his research into the Corrib Gas issue and in raising concerns at a national level. Speaking in Dáil Éireann on November 24th, 2005, Eamon Ryan raised the question of the perceived independence of An Bord Pleanála: “When An Bord Pleanála made its decision on the first planning application for a gas terminal building in Bellanaboy, the inspector came to the conclusion that the application was for the wrong site from a strategic planning perspective. The inspector said in his report that the site chosen by the company in question was the wrong one when considered in the context of the Government’s policy of fostering balanced regional development, from the perspective of minimising environmental impact and in the interests of sustainable development. More alarmingly, the inspector said he was under the impression that the granting of planning permission in this instance was a fait accompli. He concluded that the proposed site was unequivocally an incorrect choice.”

“Anyone who examines from the outside the process that led to a decision being made on the appeal in this instance would agree that it was not conducted in an open and fair manner. … I have serious concerns that the Government constantly took Shell’s side, in effect, throughout this process. … I contend that he [Taoiseach Bertie Ahern] put remarkable and untold pressure on An Bord Pleanála to accept the Government’s will and to do the right thing in this case.”

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Transcripts and items from Green website

Below is an edited transcript of Trevor Sargent’s speech at the November 2006 press conference, followed by a selection of excerpts from the Green Party website and the Dáil records.

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Trevor Sargent
Speaking at a Shell to Sea press conference, Earl of Kildare Hotel, Dublin
21 November, 2006

We welcome the Shell to Sea proposal for an independent commission, which I regard as an indication of sincere, genuine commitment to bring about a resolution which will end the very, very bitter and intractable dispute which continues to show the worst signs of law and order. The witnessing of the demonstration that took place [on November 10th] indicated to me that the government has to ask itself how we have come to this point where gardai are engaged in activities which themselves need investigation. It is a disgrace for people to be manhandled and beaten in the way that the community has been in that area.

The root cause of this problem goes right back to the way in which the giveaway deals were done for exploration licences and it is comparable, in historic terms, with the Act of Union of 1800, in the way a dodgy deal can be made to look legitimate. I think that in itself needs to be part of the investigation, and certainly should be cause for reflection by the Irish people on who it is they elect to represent them.

I certainly feel that a number of ministers, going right back to Ray Burke, needs to be investigated… More recently Frank Fahey … would have to answer questions as to how he could explain giving permission on the basis of a foreshore licence to a site that is so far inland. It beggars belief that that would stand up in any reasonable debate, never mind a court of law.

I would think that fundamentally we have to move towards some recognition that Shell have benefitted from dodgy dealing; and Shell in its own right, if it is to have any credibility in its international dealings, needs to recognise that it has to come away from the defence that it holds up that the government has overseen this and legitimised it. It is undoubtedly the case that it is a dodgy arrangement.

The Green Party supports the call for an independent commission as proposed by the Shell to Sea Campaign and we hope that it will be a step in the direction of resolving this dispute.

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Trevor Sargent
October 24th, 2006
Speaking at the gates of Shell’s proposed refinery site at Bellanaboy

This highlights the complete failure of Government to govern on behalf of the people. When a mediation process is entered into on behalf of the community in good faith by the community and the outcome was not ideal from the community’s point of view, but still it was an outcome that was clear enough and even then it has been ignored in practice by Shell and the government still sits back and says Shell must have its way. Now, that is infuriating and Minister Noel Dempsey has really abdicated his responsibility not to act on behalf of Shell but to act on behalf of the people as a whole.

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Green Party calls for new terms on exploration rights for Irish gas and oil
12 December 2006
Statement by Martin Hogan (Green Party endorsed NUI Senate candidate)

The Green Party has called for the terms of the exploration rights of gas and oil off the Irish coast to be redrafted. The Party passed a policy calling for new terms at a recent meeting of its National Council.

Martin Hogan said: “While the Government and the main opposition parties continue to avoid discussion on the unbelievable decision, which began under the ministry of Ray Burke in the late eighties, to give away Ireland’s offshore oil and gas reserves without any royalties to the Irish State, the Green Party has taken a decision to try and reverse this.

“Our policy calls for the 1992 terms governing oil and gas exploration in Ireland’s waters to be redrafted to give the State more security of hydrocarbon supply and a revenue/royalty percentage from such finds.”

The Green party also called for the terms of those deals made since 1992 to be renegotiated for the benefit of the Irish people based on a cost/benefit analysis on the value to the economy. This would include the controversial Corrib basin deal with Shell, Statoil and Marathon oil.

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The great oil and gas giveaway
Issued: 24 July 2006
Statement by Tony McDermott

The Green Party says the Government intends to give away its natural gas supply without reaping the benefits for the Irish consumer. At a time when gas prices are set to rise by over a third, the Party says consumers are left to foot the cost while indigenous sources are sold for almost nothing to foreign oil companies.

At a public lecture entitled ‘The Great Oil and Gas Giveaway’ in Griffith College this evening, Green Party Councillor and Dublin South Central General Election candidate Tony McDermott said: “I call on the Government to act immediately to renegotiate its disastrous current arrangement that sees Ireland’s natural resources being given away without any real benefit to the Irish economy or people. Gas prices are rising in Ireland and the best our Government can do is sit idly by while our indigenous gas supplies are taken by foreign companies gratis and sold back to the Irish at market.”

Cllr McDermott, who sponsored the lecture, called on the Government to ensure all activities on the part of Shell, Statoil and Marathon Oil ceased at the Corrib gas field site in Mayo until the local community’s concerns were fully assessed and addressed.

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May 4th, 2006
Trevor Sargent speaking in Dáil Éireann

Mr Sargent: I have visited the area and the home of Ms Mary Corduff and other families, while Mr. Willie Corduff and the other four men from Rossport were in prison. … I also visited the site of the treatment plant in Ballinaboy. Strangely, that plant was refused planning permission in April 2003 but, following a meeting between the Taoiseach and executives of the consortium, was granted permission in October 2004.

Before we go any further on this we need another report into the behaviour of Fianna Fáil, with particular reference to Ray Burke, in its role as oil company agent. Deputy [Frank] Fahey also needs to answer a few questions. There is no doubt that the people of Mayo will not let this rest. When one sees the arrangements made one must ask what is in it for the people. The answer is little other than that we pay whatever Shell demands in terms of price, which will continue to rise as the market gives it the ability to rise.

The Advantica report makes recommendations and highlights the fact that the Government does not have a risk-based framework for decisions on proposed and existing major hazard pipelines and lacks the transparency and consistency of a decision-making process. That is a nice way of stating that the Government has been shown up by this process as not being able to ensure fair governance and act in the interests of the people. That must be addressed before we can go any further.

The Minister is in awe of the oil industry…

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May 4th, 2006
Dan Boyle (Green Party) speaking in Dáil Éireann

When one considers the options available for refining in terms of the Corrib gas field, such as offshore, directly onshore or inshore, the fact that the State constantly promotes, at the behest of the company involved, the least environmentally friendly of those three options, a facility many miles inshore, shows this Government either does not know what it is doing or does not care, which is a more damning indictment.

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December 2005
Message on Green Party website
Support Shell to Sea Campaign

All members of the Green Party are urged to support and join the Shell to Sea Campaign which campaigns against the proposed Shell gas refinery in the Erris region of Co. Mayo and is pressing for the gas to be refined at sea. The campaign website can be found at http://www.corribsos.com, and the petition is at http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/shelltosea
The Green Party TDs and members have been very active in opposing Shell’s Corrib Gas project and supported the Rossport 5 in their courageous stand against the company. We must continue our efforts in support of this campaign which has every chance of success.

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Corrib gas pipeline will have to be redesigned on foot of Advantica report
08 December 2005

The Green Party today called for a redesign of the Corrib gas pipeline on foot of concerns raised in the Advantica report about the pressure control systems for the pipeline.
Green Party Energy spokesperson Eamon Ryan TD said today that, “I welcome the publication of the draft safety review of the Corrib pipeline report by Advantica Ltd and look forward to making a submission to the Company in response.
“While Shell and the Government will no doubt spin that the report comes out in their favour, it is clear that a major redesign of the pipeline should now take place. The recommendation that the pipeline should be built to a much stricter design code, suitable for a pipeline running through a suburban area, will surely mean that the whole pipeline design will have to be reviewed.
“This new standard requires that the maximum possible pressure in the pipeline be 144 bar as against 345 bar as at present. However, the report also says that the documents showing the reliability of the pressure control systems in the current design are technically flawed. As such Shell is going to have to go back to the drawing board to design additional control measures.
“The report also confirms the inept manner in which the Government has handled this project from the start. If their recommendation for a proper risk-based framework for decisions on such major infrastuctural projects had been in place to begin with, then this whole contentious issue would never have arisen.
“The further call by Advantica for an independent audit and inspection of the construction and operation phase of the pipeline, shows that the Government has been more interested in getting this project completed as quickly as possible rather than putting in placethe control mechanisms that would properly protect the public interest,” concluded Deputy Ryan.

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24 November 2005
Eamon Ryan speaking in Dáil Éireann

“I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this important issue, which relates to the perceived independence of a State body, An Bord Pleanála. It is vital, in the interests of proper planning and political support for the planning process, that An Bord Pleanála should be independent.

The Minister, Deputy Roche, is aware that when An Bord Pleanála made its decision on the first planning application for a gas terminal building in Bellanaboy, the inspector came to the conclusion that the application was for the wrong site from a strategic planning perspective. The inspector said in his report that the site chosen by the company in question was the wrong one when considered in the context of the Government’s policy of fostering balanced regional development, from the perspective of minimising environmental impact and in the interests of sustainable development. More alarmingly, the inspector said he was under the impression that the granting of planning permission in this instance was a fait accompli. He concluded that the proposed site was unequivocally an incorrect choice.

It is remarkable that, according to briefing documents from a meeting five months later between the Taoiseach and Shell, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources acted as a bag-carrier or messenger for the development company in question. The briefing document contains expressions of concern about An Bord Pleanála’s lack of understanding of many aspects of the projects and the petroleum sector. It refers to the fact that the company in question had lost money as a consequence of the delays caused by An Bord Pleanála’s decision. It highlights the serious reservations of the company, Enterprise Energy Ireland, about An Bord Pleanála’s decision and states that were are no alternatives to the Corrib gas field.

I would like to know what role, if any, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government played in asking An Bord Pleanála to give assurances that any further appeal decision would be considered with absolute urgency. The Department was able to present a memo at the meeting between the Taoiseach and representatives of Shell, stating that An Bord Pleanála had given a commitment to treat the appeal with utmost priority and to deliver a decision within 18 weeks, as statutorily required. I want the full details in this regard because it is vital that the planning process should be conducted in an open and fair manner. Anyone who examines from the outside the process that led to a decision being made on the appeal in this instance would agree that it was not conducted in an open and fair manner. The appellants, including those who represented the Green Party in the appeals process, did not have the same level of access to An Bord Pleanála as the developer, which was able to make a presentation on the wonderful work it was doing.

I have serious concerns that the Government constantly took Shell’s side, in effect, throughout this process. The Taoiseach downgraded the role of An Bord Pleanála by proposing to introduce a critical infrastructure Bill. He continually expressed his support for the project in this forum and elsewhere. While such evidence is circumstantial – the Taoiseach is entitled to act on behalf of Shell – I contend that he put remarkable and untold pressure on An Bord Pleanála to accept the Government’s will and to do the right thing in this case. It is to be deeply regretted that such actions have been bad for the long-term position of An Bord Pleanála as a credible and independent body. I am keen for the Minister to provide as many details as possible about this sorry process.

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One Response to ARCHIVE: Prominent Shell to Sea activist to oversee Corrib project

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s share of revenue from its gas fields could be as low as 7%, report shows – Royal Dutch Shell plc .com

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