29 September 2005

Taoiseach challenged on Rossport Five

Indymedia Ireland

by Dáil watcher Thursday, Sep 29 2005, 10:30am

Dáil Éireann, Leaders’ Questions, 28th September 2005

"The keys to the jail cells of the Rossport five are in the Taoiseach's hands. All he has to do is pick up the phone and make Shell lift the injunction, thus letting the five decent men home to their families."

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): It is a national outrage that five Rossport men have been in jail for 91 days. Does the Taoiseach feign innocence as if he were Prime Minister of the outer Hebrides, not the Republic of Ireland which happens to include County Mayo? It is true that it was Shell Oil that got the High Court to do its dirty work but the Taoiseach and his Government carry full responsibility. The Government gave this multinational corporation the power to trample brutally on the safety of a small rural community. When it resisted, the Government allowed five representatives to be put into what I can only call indefinite preventive detention.
In 1989, the Taoiseach's crooked colleague, the former Deputy and Minister, Ray Burke, gave the oil corporations a fabulous resource of gas for not a penny in royalties to the Irish people. In 1992, the Taoiseach, as Minister for Finance, gave them fabulous tax breaks. In early 2001, the Government gave the multinationals the power to expropriate the land of smallholders in Erris without consultation, any planning process or any proper environmental statement. Therefore, the Government has put the smallholders of Erris, including the area's boglands and estuaries, at the mercy of a multinational corporation which has shown itself to be merciless in how it deals with such communities in other countries in its greed for profits which amounted to an incredible €18,000 million last year alone.
When people look back on the history of rural Ireland in 2005, they will not remember the Taoiseach's flashy display of green wellies on the ploughing fields of east Cork, but the abject betrayal of a small rural community in County Mayo. The Taoiseach feigns innocence, however, as if he had been asleep since 1989, as soundly perhaps as his hapless Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on a recent Tuesday morning. At least he was not pretending to be asleep like the Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy's two minutes have concluded.

J. Higgins: The keys to the jail cells of the Rossport five are in the Taoiseach's hands. All he has to do is pick up the phone and make Shell lift the injunction, thus letting the five decent men home to their families. He should make Shell process the gas where it will not destroy the communities and the environment. While he is at it, the Taoiseach should tear up the contracts which have sold out this fabulous resource to the major corporations. Let us begin a process of developing this resource for the benefit of the people, not the bloated profits of Shell and others.

The Taoiseach: As usual, Deputy Joe Higgins knows that what he says is not true.

J. Higgins: What is not true? Tell me.

Noel Dempsey (Fianna Fáil): All of it.

Taoiseach: Most of what the Deputy said. They got the consents under the Foreshore Acts, Gas Acts, Continental Shelf Acts-----

Trevor Sargent (Green Party): It is nine kilometres inland.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please Deputy Sargent, it is Deputy Joe Higgins's question.

The Taoiseach: -----Energy (Miscellaneous) Acts, Mayo County Council and An Bord Pleanála.

J. Higgins: It is nine kilometres inland.

The Taoiseach: All of those permissions were given by Acts that were passed by this House of which the Deputy is a Member. He is making a poor show of playing to the Gallery in trying to say that Shell moved without regard to these Acts.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Sinn Féin): The Taoiseach should answer the question.

The Taoiseach: I am answering the question. As regards the second issue raised by the Deputy, the five people concerned are in jail because of a High Court decision. There is a separation of powers in this State between the Executive and the Judiciary and despite the Deputy's attitude, I would not do anything to breach a decision of the courts. As regards helping through mediation, I have already answered a constructive question from Deputy Kenny on that point.
As regards previous decisions, in 1992 the Government revised the licensing terms in order to stimulate exploration with the objective of increasing the State's petroleum supply from indigenous resources. These have been accepted by all Governments in the interim. Petroleum leases enjoy a special tax regime and are not subject to royalties or production related levies in this country. Despite the allegations that the terms are overly generous, there has been a severely low level of take up here compared to other countries. Therefore, the view that these great terms were given and then used and abused is just not true. This has been covered over a period of 13 or 14 years.
We will do anything we can to help constructively. What the Deputy has said is entirely misleading and untrue. He should have thought of a better case over the summer than to come to the House and purport all these things happened outside the terms of the law to these unfortunate people who are arguing a case.
The application to the Department was for an onshore terminal and the assessment was carried out on that basis. All the environmental and safety studies, up to the current ones, are based on that, as the Deputy knows.

J. Higgins: It was the Taoiseach's Government that provided every instrument by which the Shell Corporation is now acting. The Government gave them the power and therefore the Taoiseach carries a responsibility. Let us have done with the red herring of interfering with the courts. If, tomorrow, Shell so asks the President of the High Court, who incidentally threatened to imprison every landholder in Mayo if they did not carry out the court's writ, the injunction could then be withdrawn. It is as simple as that. Why does the Taoiseach not pick up the phone after this debate and ask the chief executive of Shell to do just that? The men could then return home and discussions on the situation could begin. At a later stage, discussions could be held with Shell as to how the company could process its gas where it would not threaten communities.
Independent Deputies visited the men in jail last week. Deputy Cowley has worked tirelessly for the people of Erris. I visited Erris and Rossport last week and I can tell the House that, although they are suffering, the determination of the community, including the families of the men in jail, is unbreakable. They will not allow their communities to be put upon in a way that threatens their environment and, potentially in certain circumstances, their lives.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy's time has concluded.

J. Higgins: In this Dáil session, we will not let up in placing responsibility where it belongs, which is with the Taoiseach. Next Saturday, even if the Taoiseach is not listening, I hope people will come in their thousands to the protest rally in Dublin in support of the Rossport five and the issues they have raised.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call on the Taoiseach to reply. The Deputy's time has long since concluded.

J. Higgins: As soon as this debate has finished, will the Taoiseach ring Shell?

The Taoiseach: Because the Minister believes the men had a point on the safety issue, he ordered a comprehensive safety review of the onshore, upstream gas pipeline to be carried out by Advantica, independent, internationally recognised experts.

Dr. Jerry Cowley (Independent): That is only a whitewash.

The Taoiseach: The safety review will examine critically all the relevant documentation relating to design and construction.

Dr. Cowley: That is a complete whitewash.

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Cowley to resume his seat. There is no provision for any other Member, except Deputy Joe Higgins, to contribute on this question.

(Interruptions).

Dr. Cowley: But Ceann Comhairle, these people are in jail-----

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to resume his seat while the Chair is on its feet. Deputy Joe Higgins submitted a question and he is entitled to hear an answer.

Dr. Cowley: These people have been in jail for over 90 days.

An Ceann Comhairle: It appears to the Chair that the Deputy wishes to leave the House. He is being totally disorderly. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Dr. Cowley: It is a scandal.

An Ceann Comhairle: It appears to the Chair the Deputy wants to make an issue of this by being put out of the House. If he wants to leave the House the Chair will facilitate him. It is his choice. I call on Deputy Cowley to leave the House for being disorderly.

Dr. Cowley: It is a disgrace and the Taoiseach should deal with it. He should not wring his hands and say he can do nothing. He is not doing enough.

Deputy Cowley withdrew from the Chamber.

Noel Dempsey: Now he will not be able to talk for them in here. It will be no good outside.

The Taoiseach: The safety review will examine critically all the relevant documentation relating to the design, construction and operation of the pipeline and the associated facilities, which was the point that Deputy Joe Higgins made.

J. Higgins: Will the Taoiseach pick up the phone to Shell?

The Taoiseach: Advantica has been asked to identify any deficiencies concerning safety and to make any recommendations on how to deal with these if they can be identified and remedied. The Minister has brought forward the review due to all the issues of concern that people had. A particular issue of concern to the local residents has been the proximity of the pipeline to inhabited dwellings. This will also be addressed in that report. The residents and, I hope, other Deputies who wish to go to the hearing and put their points as they did here yesterday during a three-hour debate at the committee will be able to do so. The two-day hearing will take place next week.

J. Higgins: Will the Taoiseach phone Shell?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to continue.

The Taoiseach: If anything can be done constructively on a mediator, we will certainly do that. However, it cannot be done by people being released first. If we can help, we will.

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