Little surprise in north Mayo over Shell sale of Corrib share

Rossport Five member Willie Corduff says it is ‘16 years too late’

Royal Dutch Shell’s proposed sale of its major share in the Corrib gas field came as little surprise to residents in Erris, Co Mayo whose views are still divided on the multibillion euro project.

After years of acrimony and protest the first delivery of gas from the field was taken in December 2015 and the project was formally opened the following month. This was some 20 years after the gas discovery was reported off the north Mayo coast.

Rossport farmer Wilie Corduff, who was one of five men jailed indefinitely over opposition to the project's high pressure pipeline route, said the decision by Shell came "16 years too late, as the damage to the community is done".

“With Vermilion as new owner, it will just be a different sign over the gate, and the marks that Shell left on our bodies, our bones and our kids will remain,” he said. “The sad part is that if the company had listened to the community living closest to it in the first place, it would have cost a lot less and they wouldn’t be going anywhere.”


Frontline report

Mr Corduff, a father of six, said he had received no word from the Garda on a recommendation by human rights organisation Frontline that an assault in April 2009 at Glengad, where the gas pipeline makes landfall, which resulted in his hospitalisation should be re-investigated.

The Frontline analysis of Corrib, published in 2010 by lawyer Brian Barrington, was critical of the State's role, and that of Shell, the Garda, Shell security, and a minority of protesters. It recommended human rights observation of protests.

Barrington’s report highlighted Shell’s policy of employing former public officials, former gardaí and former journalists – “giving rise to the appearance that Shell is seeking to influence those who regulate them”.

For its part, Shell has always maintained it had “full community consent”.

€14m policing bill

The Garda bill for policing protests came to more than €14 million, and the project resulted in a record number of complaints to the Garda Ombudsman – which recommended disciplinary action in the case of one senior garda.

Shell to Sea spokeswoman Maura Harrington said that "Shell may have been bought, but we will never be bought, battered or beguiled".

“We have inherited a new owner and Shell to Sea will continue to fight on behalf of the Irish people to defend our natural resources,”she said.

The project to pump gas ashore from the Corrib field 80km off north Mayo was pioneered by Enterprise Ireland from 1996 and sold to Royal Dutch Shell in 2002.

After a record number of planning hearings, and several changes to the onshore pipeline route directed by An Bord Pleanála on safety grounds, the first gas was pumped ashore in late 2015.

A judicial review of former minister for energy Alex White’s approval of the project is listed for hearing next February.

Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Kyne said that Shell has “not yet submitted the necessary approval request to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment” for the sale to proceed.

"Shell will also be required to seek additional approvals from other regulatory bodies, including the Commission for Energy Regulation [CER], which is responsible for safety in gas production," he said.

‘No plans to downsize’

The CER said a change of operator would constitute a “material change to a safety case”, and it would assess a revised case and consider “any changes” before awarding a safety permit for operating the project.

Just over 80 of some 100 Shell staff employed on the project were called to a meeting at the Ballinaboy refinery on Wednesday, and were assured by the potential new owners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Vermilion, that there were "no plans to downsize".

Chris Tallott, a founder of the North-West Mayo Action Group which was formed by former Bellacorick Bord na Móna and ESB staff, said his priority was always that employment would be maintained.

“This is no big surprise as it happens in a lot of companies around the world,” Mr Tallott said. “For me, it is important that the jobs are there as every job counts in this part of the world.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times