This estuary and the surrounding area is an EU-designated Special Conservation Area. It’s also where Shell want to dig a tunnel and run a high pressure gas pipeline underwater to an inland gas refinery. It’s a remote corner of the country but it’s been in the eye of a storm for the last few years pitting the local community and environmental and social justice activists against the interests of an oil multinational and the Irish government. The gas is valued at 450Billion Euro and the Irish government refuses to re-negotiate the deal done with Shell. Not only will the tax that Shell pay be one of the lowest in the world but they will also pay no royalty payments under the current terms. Contract terms are sacred you see, unless you’re an Irish bank bondholder that is, in which case we’ll review contracts in case of any losses incurred.
I got there late in the evening after some more night cycling through rural Mayo. If you’re ever going cycling, or driving for that matter, around Mayo, be warned, it’s a fecking enormous county! I underestimated the distance again, this time from Crossmolina to Bangor-Erris and wound up only making it half-way to Rossport before dark. Only with the help of some locals did I realise that I wasn’t actually going to Rossport but to the other side of the estuary to Glengad where the Solidarity Camp has moved indoors for the winter to a house donated by a local resident.
It was after dark when I arrived, so I didn’t get to see the scenery until the next morning. But it’s absolutely stunning!
The state of play at the moment is that Shell have been allowed to apply for planning permission for the offshore pipeline, which is now built, and for the on-shore refinery, which is also now built, and they are trying to get planning permission for the pipeline to bring the gas ashore. Their plans so far have been turned down by the planning authorities on health and safety grounds. One of the many anomalies of the case is that infrastructure projects like this are not allowed to apply for planning permission for the different phases of the project separately. Under EU law, they must have permission for the whole project before it can begin. Shell in Ireland got around that somehow.
Another bone of contention on the part of campaigners and local residents is the media coverage that the campaign has been given. Initially, there was a swell of support for the Rossport 5, local men who were imprisoned in 2005 for not abiding by a Court Ruling forbidding them to obstruct Shell’s work around their community. Although very little has changed, this wave of support has faded somewhat since, and many feel that this is due to the media increasingly portraying the campaigners in a negative light and downplaying the repression of dissent by private security firm employees and the Gardai.
One national journalist has followed the story from the start and is seen as having a balanced viewpoint. Galway-based Irish Times journalist Lorna Siggins last month launched her fourth book, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West: The Corrib Gas Controversy’ to a positive reception.
An award-winning documentary film has also been released recently on the story. The Pipe and its director Risteard O’Dohmnaill have gotten very positive reviews. In a recent interview, he said that part of his motivation for making the documentary was how the story was being presented in the national media. It’s on in the IFI in Dublin for the next two weeks, dates here. and on limited release at venues around the country.
The popularity of both should contribute to putting this hugely important issue and its handling thus far to the forefront of people’s minds in the run up to the next oral hearing by the planning authorities.
Oh yeah, and they have a thriving food growing garden at the house thanks to the rich seaweed fertiliser and the efforts of the dedicated volunteers.
Thanks guys for the warm welcome.
“Over the next 15 years or so, hundreds of millions of euro will be generated for the public finances. The money will pay for better health services, for improved education facilities, for the alleviation of poverty, for investment in vital infrastructure. The people of north Mayo may have to endure some environmental degradation and to live with justified anxieties about their own safety. But the lives of millions of ordinary people will be made better as a result. The bad news is that all of those ordinary people are Norwegian. The maths are simple enough. The plain people of Norway own just over 71 per cent of Statoil. Statoil has a 36.5 per cent stake in the development of the Corrib field. (Shell has 45 per cent and Marathon 18.5 per cent.) That means that the citizens of Norway effectively own 25.5 per cent of the gas from the Corrib field. Which is precisely 25.5 per cent more than the citizens of Ireland do. A resource that lies 70 kilometres off the Mullet peninsula in Co Mayo will benefit Erik and Elsa Soap in Bergen far more than it will benefit Joe and Josephine Soap in Belmullet. In an almost comically absurd expression of our addiction to misgovernment, we will buy our own gas at commercial rates from, among others, the Norwegian people. Last year, 67 per cent of Statoil’s profits were taken by the state in the form of taxes, boosting the exchequer in Oslo by around €5.7 billion. If these tax rates continue to apply, that means that for every €100 worth of profit that is made from Irish people buying our own Corrib gas over the next 15 years or so, around €17 will go into the Norwegian exchequer. Most of it, presumably, will go into the vast Government Petroleum Fund, which the Norwegian state is storing up against the day when its own oil runs out. So Irish gas will be helping to pay the pensions of Sami deer-herders in Lapland in 2050.” Fintan O’Toole