Supreme Court rejects Shell pipeline challenge

The Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge to the validity of compulsory acquisition orders for the Shell pipeline project in Co Mayo.

Supreme Court rejects Shell pipeline challenge

The court yesterday ruled that four opponents of the project did not bring their challenge within prescribed time limits.

In 2005, Shell E and P Ireland Ltd brought injunction proceedings alleging interference by the a number of local residents including the four — Philip McGrath, James B Philbin, Willie Corduff and Bríd McGarry — with the construction of an on-shore gas pipeline to connect the sub-sea Corrib gas field wells to gas terminal near Rossport.

The residents brought a counter-claim to the injunction proceedings in which they challenged the validity of the original compulsory acquisition orders for the pipeline issued by the minister for communications, marine and natural resources, who had been joined with Shell as a defendant along with the attorney general. They also sought damages.

In Apr 2007, Shell withdrew its proceedings against the residents but their counter-claim remained and the minister asked the High Court to first rule that the four were guilty of delay and out of time to bring their action under court rules.

The minister and Shell argued the counter-claim was initiated three-and-a-half years after the ministerial approval was given and should not be allowed proceed.

The High Court’s Ms Justice Mary Laffoy held the residents were simply obliged to act within a reasonable time and done so by responding to Shell’s original statement of claim within five months. The rules permitted the court to extend the time for bringing such actions, Ms Justice Laffoy said.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, on behalf of a three-judge Supreme Court, said he disagreed with Ms Justice Laffoy and made an order dismissing the challenge to the compulsory acquisition orders on the grounds that it was out of time under court rules.

Mr Justice Clarke said the fact that the residents’ action was in the form of a counter-claim did not seem to him to affect the application of the time limits in court rules. If there was carte blanche for a person, once sued, to bring a legal challenge well outside the time when that the original decision was made, it would render the regime for timely challenges to public measures “largely ineffective and (would) be apt to lead to significant injustice”.

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