05 August 2005

Shell halts work on gas pipeline

Irish Independent

UP to 200 workers employed on construction of the controversial Corrib Gas Field plant in Co Mayo could lose their jobs after Shell announced that work is to be suspended until after Christmas.

In a statement last night, Shell E&P Ireland announced that all offshore pipeline work was to be temporarily suspended just two days after permission was granted by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, for construction to begin on the 75km pipeline.

No further work will be carried out until "public discussion and dialogue" take place, the company said in a surprise statement issued last night.

It added that it could not withdraw legal proceedings which have seen five Co Mayo men jailed for objecting to construction of a pipeline near their homes.

A spokesperson for the petroleum giant said it had "no wish" for the current situation with the men to continue, but added that suspension of the work would give the public time to engage in a "period of calm".

The five Mayo men - known as the Rossport Five - have been in prison for more than a month after being jailed for contempt of court following their protests over the Shell development.

Preliminary work on the off-shore pipeline was due to begin on August 14 and would have lasted for three weeks.

A spokesperson for Shell said this work was unlikely to take place until after Christmas, which would have possible implications for 200 workers currently employed. Last week the company let 91 workers go.

It now plans a media and public relations blitz aimed at securing local support for the project.

"We really feel it's going to need widespread public support," the spokesperson said.

"We have no wish for this situation to continue and hope the public will take part in a period of calm."

Managing director Andy Pyle said: "While we strongly believe that all safety aspects of the onshore pipeline have been fully addressed, we want the public to have confidence that every reasonable step has been taken. Today's announcement regarding the temporary suspension of the offshore pipeline works is a further sign of our commitment to safety."

However, local TD Dr Jerry Cowley, who is actively involved in the campaign against the facility, said it was "very hard" to believe anything the company said. "Everything they've done up to now has been a PR job," he said.

"Shell have the option of collapsing that injunction, so why won't they do that if they're looking for good will? Decency and justice would require that those men walk out of jail.

"People accept now that there's not going to be a pipeline laid," he claimed.

The spokesperson for Shell added that suspension of the work would not materially affect the project's completion date.

Paul Melia

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