By Ann O'Loughlin
A campaigner against the Shell Corrib gas project in Co Mayo has urged the High Court to quash a ministerial consent for a pipeline bringing gas to a refinery at Ballinaboy.
From the time of her first submission in May 2001 to Mayo County Council concerning the project, and despite not being able to argue every facet of what later took place, “I knew what was at stake”, Maura Harrington said.
She had recognised, from "day one", the entire project was “a land, sea and air attack on the place that is Erris”.
The case by Ms Harrington, representing herself, and opposed by four senior counsel representing the State and Shell, opened on Tuesday before Mr Justice Michael McGrath.
Ms Harrington is challenging a December 29th 2015 consent, issued under the Gas Act, by then Minister Alex White for a pipeline transporting gas from the Corrib gas field to the Ballinaboy refinery.
Among various claims, she contends the process under which the consent issued was flawed and no environmental impact assessment sufficient to comply with the consolidated EIA Directive of 2011 was carried out.
Ms Harrington said the State and Shell maintain the consent was for raw gas to run from “point a to point b” and that her case amounted to an impermissible collateral attack on the process under which it and other consents were gathered.
She disputed such arguments and maintained the process is amenable to judicial review.
At issue is the “balance of rights” between herself, who had taken part in all the statutory processes from beginning to end, and the respondents, she said.
Before the gas could run from point a to point b, the other consents had to be in place, she said.
The December 2015 consent was the final part of a long, complex and complicated project which began in November 2000 with Shell’s first planning application to Mayo County Council, she said.
In the long and complicated process of consent gathering, she was precluded from comment on aspects of the project which had not yet been presented by Shell for consideration for consent, such as the question of raw gas running through a pipeline from one point to another, she said.
Her difficulty now, when seeking to rely on European law designed to protect the environment, she was being told she cannot do that as it amounted to an impermissible collateral attack on other consents.
The Aarhus Convention - concerning public participation in decision making affecting the environment - was ratified by Ireland in 1997 although it was not transposed into Irish law until relatively recently, she said.
The question of integrated public participation arises under principles of the Aarhus Convention but the difficulty for public participation in the planning process for the Corrib gas field was that the different stages of it were presented at different times, she said.
The December 2015 consent must be assessed in a context of the integrated public participation provided for under the Aarhus Convention, she said.
It appeared irrational, contrary to common sense and a “nonsense” to maintain that consents which were relied upon for phases of this entire project, and to support this final consent, had been fully examined and deemed fully compliant with Irish and EU law, she said.
The hearing continues.