The Corrib Gas project represents a cautionary example of how large industrial developments should not be handled by governments or multinational companies. A lack of consultation and sensitivity to local concerns in the initial stages led gradually to resistance and confrontation. Smouldering resentment over what objectors regarded as unqualified state support for the developer caught fire when five protesters, concerned about the safety of a gas pipeline and its proximity to their homes, were jailed on an application from Shell. From there, there was no going back.
It is ten years since national sentiment was stirred by the jailing of the “Rossport Five” over what many regarded as justifiable resistance to powerful, external forces. In spite of belated government efforts at mediation and a suspension of development work by Shell, positions had become entrenched. When work resumed at the refinery site, pickets were placed. Members of the Garda Síochána were sent in to clear the approach road and violence followed. Incidents of assault and intimidation were reported on both sides as confrontations involving opponents, gardaí and supporters of the project continued. The community was deeply divided over the dangers and benefits involved.
When the Corrib gas field was discovered in 1996, government saw it as a ready source of income, to be exploited as quickly as possible. Shell and its partners agreed. The refinery was sited onshore while the pipeline ran close to some homes. Following long years of appeals, protests and local divisions the pipeline was rerouted and additional safety precautions taken. But vital local employment was also provided during the recession while construction firms secured a variety of contracts and developed important expertise. The State now faces multimillion tax losses. For Shell, the scheme is coming in years behind schedule and at four times its estimated cost. In spite of all that has happened - and may recur elsewhere – advance consultation and mediation between major developers and local communities is still not a statutory requirement.