State should not 'negotiate away' environment


Ireland should not "negotiate away" its environment in north-west Mayo for the promise of a few jobs with the Corrib gas field development, the Nigerian activist Dr Owens Wiwa has warned.

Dr Wiwa is the brother of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian author who was executed with eight others in November 1995 for his opposition to the Royal Dutch Shell group's activities in the Niger Delta.

Now working as a medical consultant in Toronto, Canada, he is attending today's resumed An Bord Pleanála hearing into the Corrib gas field development at the invitation of Erris, Co Mayo, residents who oppose the siting of the onshore gas terminal.

Dr Wiwa, who met Galway West Labour TD, Mr Michael D. Higgins, in Galway on Saturday, said there were similarities between the situation in Erris and that of Ogoniland, where people had protested over Shell Oil's environmental record in Nigeria in the 1990s. "It is the same company (Enterprise Energy Ireland is owned by Royal Dutch Shell), there is the same sort of promise of jobs in the initial phase, and the promise that there will be no impact on people's way of life.

"In the Niger Delta there were a few jobs initially in pipe-laying, but very quickly local people were being told that they weren't skilled enough, and much of the process of exploiting natural resources is now automated. In fact, jobs were lost because the environment of farmers and fishermen was destroyed."

Even though the Mayo project involved offshore gas, there was a high risk to the environment in terms of transport ashore.

"Then there is the social tension that can arise between those who do and those who don't want this sort of economic development - the splits it can cause in families, the lack of transparency among the developers and politicians. I have seen all this happen before."

Dr Wiwa was arrested several times during the Ogoni protests, and met the managing director of Shell Nigeria to try to stop his brother's trial in 1995. Dr Wiwa claims he was told he could secure his brother's release if the protest movement which the writer founded called off its campaign. Shell later disputed that account of the meeting.

"My first experience of energy development was in 1970, when I visited a village in Ogoniland with my brother after there had been an explosion at an oil-well. I saw children and old people coughing up blood and for three weeks there was a lot of serious illness and people couldn't drink the water. For three weeks Shell didn't even try to get clean water supplies to the village, and government officials were unable to intervene.

"I am not saying that this could happen here in Mayo, but transnational energy companies are more powerful than governments. And anybody who can avoid a big transnational company should do so by all means."