Corrib gas campaign is the mainstream view in Mayo

March 30, 2007 at 9:56 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

It might be worthwhile briefly taking stock of where stands the campaign to reconfigure Shell’s project in North Mayo. Despite a concerted and coordinated effort to marginalise those opposing the current project by attempting to portray them as isolated and unrepresentative the reality is otherwise. Take the key issues raised by the campaign.

First, where should the gas be processed? 

On this key question, the latest Red C / Western People opinion poll showed that 55% want the gas processed off-shore and 7% want the project halted. 34% support the current proposal. This poll shows the same finding as all four previous local polls on the issue carried out by The Irish Times, TG4, The Mayo Advertiser and RTE. In other words, a clear majority in Mayo support off-shore processing.

Second, why do we have the Corrib gas conflict?

The Red C / Western People poll showed that 60% blame either the government or Shell and 30% local protesters. This is a clear ratio of 2:1.

Third, are there benefits arising from the current Corrib gas project?

It is clear that all fair observers now aknowledge that the financial deal under which Corrib is being developed is unfair and wrong. On last night’s Vincent Browne programme on RTE radio, all the election candidates from all the political parties present condemned the deal as disgraceful. In addition, Mayo County Council, Westport Town Council and Castlebar Town Council have voted in recent weeks unamimously in support of motions calling for a renegotiation of the deal. Ballina Town Council is due to do the same next week.

Clearly, the campaign to change the Corrib gas project is supported by a majority.  The campaign is the mainstream view in County Mayo. The argument has been won. We now need political leadership to implement the will of the people on this matter.

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Phone tapping allegations

March 28, 2007 at 11:26 am | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

I read with great disquiet yesterday’s report in The Connaught Telegraph of possible phone tapping of those involved in the campaign against the Corrib gas project. It appears from the report that I might be one of those whose phone has been tapped.

 

If this is true then this raises matters of great concern. On what basis are decisions made to access phone records or to tap phone conversations? Is it not envisaged in the relevant legislation that there should be, in order to justify such interceptions, good grounds to suspect criminal activity? I for one have never been involved in criminal activity of any kind. My efforts in the Corrib gas campaign have been exclusively centred on using political and legal means to redress the problem.

 

In addition, it would be a grave matter if my work telephone at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has been tapped, as this would infringe not only my personal privacy but also the fundamental principle of academic freedom. Furthermore, has my telephone been tapped subsequent to the announcing of my intention to seek a seat in Seanad Eireann in the NUI constituency?

 

I welcome the efforts of Dr Jerry Cowley to pursue this matter and I look forward to immediate clarification from the Minister for Justice on the issue.

  

Welcome For Red C Poll Findings – Joint Statement

March 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

We warmly welcome today’s Red C opinion poll findings published in The Western People. These show that 55% of respondents support an off-shore processing of the Corrib gas and that by a ratio of 2:1 respondents hold either the government or Shell responsible for the Corrib gas conflict.

These findings are the fifth consecutive opinion poll showing a clear majority in Mayo supporting the off-shore processing of the Corrib field. This demonstrates that opposition to Shell’s project is the mainstream view in Mayo. Shell’s insistence on developing Corrib on-shore at Bellanaboy does not have the agreement of most of the people of Mayo.

 We call again for the Corrib gas conflict to be brought to an end and for a speedy and agreed solution to be found. As we said in our joint statement of March 12th a solution is possible but it requires leadership and political will to make it happen. It is simply not good enough that this has been so lacking and that political representatives have washed their hands of the problem. The people of Mayo not only deserve better but it is clear from today’s poll that they demand better. We, for our part, will continue to work with all means at our disposal to achieve an agreed solution.  

Dr Jerry Cowley

Dr Mark Garavan

   

Contact

March 26, 2007 at 2:13 pm | Posted in Contacts | Leave a comment

I can be contacted at markgar@eircom.net

Tel: 087-9023687

The Democratic Deficit

March 26, 2007 at 9:02 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

 

Some weeks ago, Vincent Browne in The Irish Times argued that the issue of democracy was not receiving due attention in the upcoming election. This is indeed an important question. Let me repeat some ideas I wrote about in The Feasta Review 2 a couple of years ago.

It has been apparent for many years that a significant number of citizens believe that there is a serious democratic deficit throughout the western liberal States. While this is intrinsically worrying it is even more so given the strain these States are under to address the profound structural challenges posed by environmental decline. For these challenges to be met we require the State to be competent and smart and that is best achieved through a deep and engaged democracy.

But what we appear to be experiencing is a decaying of democracy occurring at both poles of the democratic process the quality of representation (supply) and the engagement of citizens (demand).

 

At the supply end of the equation, three features can be identified as responsible for the process of de-democratisation. The first, and most important, is the dominance in public discourse of a certain version of economic rationality. This rationality elevates the functioning of a theoretically imagined free market economy to be the epitome of sound social behaviour. Concepts such as competition, efficiency, free choice, privatisation and many others have been elevated to a non-problematic status as guarantors of prolonged economic growth and social well-being.

 

The logic of the free-market is asserted to be the most rational logic available anything else becomes, ipso facto, irrational and potentially dysfunctional. The claim made is that each individual pursuing his or her own maximum utility results in optimum social well-being. The States role is merely to ensure the best environment within which this rationality can proceed. The consequence however is that the concepts of a particular economic language game have overwhelmed our ability to speak politically in any other credible way. Those who attempt to do so can be charged with being unreasonable, unrealistic, and even dangerous. The effect on public discourse of this ascendancy has been to close down the capacity of public representatives to speak credibly in any other categories. They have become caught in an intellectual box beyond which they cannot manoeuvre.

 

But, even more alarming, this box is not just a theoretical construction. The second factor degrading democratic responsiveness is that power has effectively shifted from visible, accountable persons and institutions to invisible, globally diffused sites and systems. The control exercised by global corporations and financial services over the increasingly inter-dependant national economies has resulted in power being based upon the ability to control financial resources. Capital flows, investment decisions, currency speculations, and other choices exercised by large corporations, directly affect employment levels and wealth levels in individual nation States. It is this power that keeps the box in place. But rather than resist this de facto ceding of domestic control, nation-States have accelerated this process through the creation of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation, which legally binds States into the regime of free trade. The result is that irrespective of who is elected to de jure leadership positions within States, they effectively can do little substantive policy making, i.e. nothing outside the limits of the box and certainly nothing on the scale required by the ecological demands of this time.

 

Finally, elected representatives have presided over the dismantling of the States domain of concern in the last couple of decades, voluntarily so in the West, often compulsorily elsewhere as conditions of international loans or in consequence of military interventions. This has occurred in two directions. First has been the deregulation and privatisation of large areas of the economy that were formerly publicly owned – such as transport and electricity provision. Secondly, the State has increasingly devolved decision-making powers from democratic institutions to a variety of administrative bodies. Nowhere is this latter tendency more apparent than in the environmental policy-making area where questions of environmental impact have been determined by pollution control agencies, environmental impact assessment procedures and scientifically grounded risk assessments. Environmental concerns have become shunted away from political forums and instead rendered into a series of technical problems to be processed by administrative bodies. The result in this case has been the reduction, de-politicisation and domestication of environmental issues.

 

This supply contraction has met with, and in large part has itself influenced, a corresponding decline in the demand for representation from electorates. This contraction is an understandable response to the realisation of the limits of representative effectiveness. The growing loss of belief in liberal democracy is summed up in commonly occurring phrases such as It makes no difference who you vote for, They are all the same, They are all puppets who can do nothing anyway. This assessment by electorates is accentuated by revelations of political corruption, which have swept many Western States in recent years, our own included. As a result it has become apparent that the formal channel of exercising democratic power grounded on votes exercised by citizens has become outflanked by informal channels of influence, resting on financial power and political funding (licit and illicit), by the corporate few.

 

The consequence has been a further significant impetus to the de-politicisation of the public sphere, with the category of citizen being progressively replaced by that of consumer. The drama of politics has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd as largely powerless and homogeneous political representatives seek to cajole votes from disengaged, atomised individuals whose focus has become increasingly centred on the domain of their own personal autonomy. The electorates of the West now largely expect nothing from the political system, least of all the possibility of a vision of social transformation being translated into a politically realisable project. In the context of the grave environmental challenges facing us, this is a serious deficit indeed. This is because if we are to manage and regulate business and society in order to achieve social and ecological sustainability we will need highly democratised and effective policy instruments wielded by confidant and accountable States that can hold the trust of their citizens.

 

Community Letter to Norwegian Parliament

March 20, 2007 at 10:07 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Below is the translation of a text of a letter/request sent from participants at a Conference held in January in Norway. The conference was organised by a community just North of Bergen. Philip McGrath of the Rossport Five and myself were invited to attend and spoke on the issues being faced by the community of North Mayo in regards to the Corrib gas project. Following our talk, the participants agreed to send the following letter, which was entirely their own work. (It was, after all, drafted in Norwegian!) The conference was attended by local residents, academics, journalists and local political leaders. It shows that the people of Norway themselves would be outraged by events in Ireland regarding Corrib if they had the full information. 

‘Open Letter to the Norwegian National Assembly through the President of the Assembly, Mr Torbjorn Jagland

REQUEST FOR A HEARING IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF NORWAY

 The arranging committee of a seminar at Dyrkolbotn Fjellstove 12-13 January 2007 – with great approval from the participants – will by this letter appeal to public opinion and strongly show their dislike of the way Statoil has behaved when developing the Corrib Gas Project of Bellanaboy and Rossport in the Mayo County of Ireland. Statoil is a 36.5% participant in a consortium including Shell (45% and Marathon (18.5%). Our Irish guests presented us with the story of the Corrib Gas project. The local people of the Bellanaboy and Rossport area have strongly objected to the proposed gas project, both the landing of the gas, the route of the pipeline in close proximity to people and dwellings and the site of the planned processing plant in protected areas. They want the area to remain unspoilt and preserve it for traditional income sources related to farming and fishing. Protests and demonstrations have been organized to show the resistance of the local residents against the plans and the planning procedures of the multinational companies. Instead of entering into dialogue with the locals, Statoil together with Shell put in the police. When in June 2005 five landowners (known as the Rossport Five) refused to allow personnel of the companies access to their land they were put in prison indefinitely! Shell obtained a High Court injunction against them, and they were locked up in prison for more than three months. Work on the project site is being prepared and carried out under protection of police. This state of things has now lasted for seven years! The inhabitants feel that their small and fragile communities are being traumatized and falling apart. We think this is an example of ruthless activities on the part of a Norwegian state company neglecting the views of the locals of Bellanaboy and Rossport. The companies should enter into dialogue with the local community to try to find solutions that the residents will accept. Great attention should be paid to the environmental aspects, to the development of the material and human resources of this area, and to retaining the assets for the welfare of this community. It is perhaps even more unacceptable that Statoil participates in exploiting the fact that in Ireland there is hardly any State participation in the commercial development of important natural resources, and in the case of the Rossport Five Statoil is responsible along with Shell for having acted in defiance of common democratic, moral and legal standards. The oil companies were granted the right to occupy land even if the owners objected, by Compulsory Acquisition Orders.  

On this background the President of the National Assembly is requested to make the initiative for an open hearing where Statoil has to explain its involvement in the Corrib Gas Project. The objective must be to listen to the views and arguments of the local residents and to find alternative solutions to the controversial gas project, e.g. an offshore processing plant.’

 

Drykolbotn 13 January 2007.

 

Signhild Dyrkolbotn, on behalf of the arranging committee.

Eli Bjorklid, contact person.

Petition to European Parliament

March 16, 2007 at 11:31 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

I wish to confirm that I have lodged a Petition to the European Parliament’s Petition’s Committee calling on them to immediately investigate possible breaches of European Union Law in regard to the Corrib gas project. I have submitted that the following EU Directives have been breached.

 

  1. The Environmental Impact Assessment Directives. They have been breached because the Corrib Gas project has been characterised by ‘project-splitting’. Various elements of the project have been divided and subject to distinct regulatory processes. No process exists, which allows for meaningful public participation, into the project as an integral totality.
  2. The Seveso 2 Directive. The competent authority in Ireland charged with implementing Seveso 2, the Health and Safety Authority, adopted a very narrow interpretation of the key concept of ‘establishment’ in determining the compliance of the proposed refinery to the Directive. This interpretation diverges from the explicit terms of the Directive. They judged that the ‘establishment’ did not extend to the boundaries of the refinery site but referred to a narrower work area within the site.
  3. The Water Quality Directive. The proposed refinery is to be sited within three kilometers from Carrowmore Lake, which is the drinking water source for almost 8,000 local people. This breaches the Code of Practice governing the development of gas refineries and breaches the Directive. The refinery clearly should not be located so close to a large drinking water source.
  4. Various Public Consultation Directives. The proposed project constitutes a significant potential threat to the health and safety of the population living in proximity to it. The project involves a refinery and high-pressure production pipeline being located within a populated area. The area is rural and lacks any support infrastructure for a project of this kind. No health impact studies have been conducted and no adequate pre-planning consultation occurred with the local population. The level of community consultation and participation involving the project has been far short of what is envisaged by the Directives.
  5. The Habitats Directive. An Advisory Opinion from the EU Commission has already found the project to be in breach of the Habitats Directive because no adequate studies were undertaken of the nearby Broadhaven Bay, a known breeding ground for cetaceans. It is proposed that discharges from the refinery will be made into this Bay. The project is in proximity to three SACs – Broadhaven Bay, Glenamoy Bog and Carrowmore Lake.

I hope that the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee will quickly initiate a comprehensive enquiry into these matters. It is essential that the serious health and safety concerns regarding the Corrib gas project be the subject of objective, independent investigation.

 

Response to Energy White Paper

March 13, 2007 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

Charting a sustainable energy policy and preparing the country for rapid global warming are the two biggest challenges facing the State. The government’s White Paper proposes that 33% of our electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2020. But this is merely aspirational because such a commitment is not integrated into the social and economic framework needed to bring it about. The Paper fails to adequately address transportation and industry as critical sources of greenhouse emissions. Let me outline this with a few illustrations:

 

  1. We need micro-generation of electricity using diverse but complementary power sources. This would give rise to community grids connected into national and European grids so that energy deficits can be imported and energy surpluses exported. But this requires new infrastructure and new community planning.
  2. We need an emphasis on organic agriculture so that food is grown as locally as possible without recourse to chemical fertilizers and the need for long transportation chains.
  3. We need to radically reduce private car usage. This requires new public transport facilities and the integration of work and home and a sustained effort to eliminate long car-based commuting.
  4. We need businesses and factories to develop local energy sources and to be rewarded for so doing.
  5. We need to derive significant financial returns from indigenous fossil fuel sources such as Corrib in order to invest in developing and supporting renewable and micro energy systems.

In summary, real energy sustainability will require a real de-centralisation of the society and economy. There is no evidence from the White Paper that the government is thinking along these necessary lines.

The Energy White Paper and Corrib

March 13, 2007 at 2:07 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

The Energy White Paper makes a few interesting references to Corrib. 

Security of Supply

In section 3.3.3 there is a clear acknowledgement that there is no security of supply issue facing the country. This removes one of the key justifications being cited to progress the Corrib gas project in its present form.

Fiscal Terms

The White Paper clearly exposes government confusion on this point. In section 3.6.1 it speaks of reviewing these terms if prospectivity improves. But in section 3.6.2 it openly acknowledges that significant potential fossil fuel resources exist in the Irish off-shore. So why not change these terms now? In any event the financial return on any such find is so enormous given the rise in fossil fuel values that the present regime is clearly inadequate. The government fails to realise the investment capacity for the transition to renewable energy that a proper fiscal regime would deliver.

Safety and Regulation

The White Paper acknowledges and concedes two key issues in the local campaign to change the Corrib gas project. In section 3.6.5 the task of regulating and supervising production pipelines is granted to the CER and thereby removed from the Dept of Marine. Local people always argued that the Dept could not both encourage the oil and gas industry and supervise it at the same time. Secondly, in section 3.6.5 it is also announced that a National Risk Framework will now be put in place for oil and gas projects among others. Again, this acknowledges that Corrib was developed without such a Framework to properly determine risk and risk assessment, which has been another argument advanced by local people in North Mayo.

Renewed call for an Independent Commission – Joint Statement

March 12, 2007 at 11:47 am | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

Joint Statement – Dr Jerry Cowley & Dr Mark Garavan March 12th, 2007 In our joint statement of February 12th we pledged that we would work together to achieve a political solution to the Corrib gas conflict. To this end, we call again for the establishment of an Independent Commission to determine the optimum development model for the Corrib project under an agreed set of criteria including that of community consent. While we welcome the decision of the EPA to hold an oral hearing we need a far more comprehensive, root and branches review of the project. The Corrib gas conflict needs to be resolved. It has gone on for far too long. There is a solution possible but what is required is leadership and political will to make it happen. It is simply not good enough that this has been so lacking. It is not good enough that those with political responsibility have washed their hands of the problem. The people of North Mayo deserve better.  In the absence of any effort to resolve the issue the situation on the ground in the communities affected by the project is tense and volatile. We are concerned that Shell’s insistence on proceeding with construction of the refinery prior to an agreement regarding a production pipeline and prior to EPA approval will deepen the dispute. We are deeply concerned at the potential that exists for further serious conflict. 

For our part, we will work towards achieving a solution. In our respective electoral campaigns for Dail and Seanad, we will argue for the establishment of an agreed Independent Commission. We ask that people of goodwill and in positions of influence support us in this effort. A solution is not only possible, it is essential.

  

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