The Government’s promise of a talks forum to resolve bitter disputes over the controversial Corrib gas project descended into chaos today.
As the first hearing began behind closed doors, opponents of the North Mayo Shell development boycotted the meeting and instead organised their own get-together next door.
Shell to Sea accused Energy Minister Eamon Ryan of refusing to tackle mistakes made in the eight-year long battle to open the off-shore gas field and coastal refinery.
Spokeswoman Maura Harrington, who this year held a 10-day hunger strike over the project, claimed the forum would not address the real concerns.
“While Minster Eamon Ryan accepted that undoubted mistakes have been made in relation to this project, it seems that he doesn’t want these mistakes to be discussed and corrected,” she said.
“This forum is not allowed to address the health concerns of the people of the area, the unsuitability of Bellanaboy as a refinery site or the great give-away of our gas and oil.
“This media event tries to intrinsically link Shell’s Corrib Gas with the proper and sustainable development of the North West Mayo region. Not only is no link possible, they are mutually exclusive.”
The first meeting of the Government-backed forum was held behind closed doors in a Belmullet hotel by invitation only.
Mr Ryan and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon O Cuiv attended the meeting and insisted the Shell development would go ahead as planned.
Anti-Corrib campaigners Pobal Cill Comainn and Pobal Le Cheile refused to join the forum while the most vocal opponents Shell to Sea organised their own meeting next door.
Former senior civil servant Joe Brosnan – a member of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission – heads up the forum.
Managing director of Shell E&P Ireland Terry Nolan also attended.
An Garda Siochana, which is the focus of numerous complaints over its handling of demonstrations, and several Government departments will be involved in the talks.
Local community groups, Shell and workers’ representatives, Mayo County Council and some state agencies will also be asked to take part.
Shell to Sea’s Terence Conway added: “We have been seeking proper dialogue for eight years now, and the only dialogue the Government have sent our way, is the boot and the baton of An Garda Siochana.”
Mr Ryan also claimed Corrib would help turn north Mayo into an energy hub for the country.
“Ireland has some of the best ocean and wind resources in the world and North West Mayo has the best resources in Ireland,” the minister said.
“Renewable and gas energy go hand in hand. I believe that development of these resources will bring long term and sustainable economic development to Mayo.”