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Rossport men face return to Cloverhill Rossport men face return to Cloverhill
By Stephen O’Grady
WITH mediation talks between the Rossport Five and Shell sidelined, Willie Corduff, Micheal Ó Seighin, Brendan Philbin, Philip and Vincent McGrath (below) are this week facing the daunting prospect of a return to prison.
The five men, who served 94 days in jail for refusing to obey a High Court order last summer, come before the High Court on Monday next to find out if they will be punished for contempt of court.
Spokesman for the five men, Dr Mark Garavan, has described as ‘a big legal call’ the imminent decision of the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan.
“It would very disturbing and distressing all round,” said Dr Garavan. “It’s very worrying for them and their families, but as always they are very steadfast. They’re completely resolute in terms of the position they have taken, and they’re determined to see this through to the end, whatever it takes.”
The five men withdrew from mediation talks with Shell last week, accusing Minister Noel Dempsey of intervening in the process and altering the agreed original framework for mediation.
Mediator Peter Cassells is believed to have e-mailed each of the men during the past few days in an effort to secure their return to the process, but the five have reserved a decision on their return pending action from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
Minister Dempsey has denied interfering in the process, claiming that it was ‘necessary and clearly understood’ that certain issues regarding mediation would be conveyed to him. Dr Garavan has described Minister Dempsey’s involvement as ‘hugely worrying and very disappointing’. He has called on the Minister to put in place the conventional mediation format which will bring about the return of the Rossport Five.
“Once you go into formal mediation, then it should be done properly and professionally, by which we mean that the two parties to the dispute should come together. They should have confidentiality to explore ideas, they should have control over the process in terms of deciding when it’s over, and there certainly shouldn’t be any reporting outside the process to a third party.”
However, even if an agreed format can be restored, the five men may not be in a position to renew mediation talks after next Monday’s High Court appearance.
Mr Justice Finnegan must consider if the High Court is in a legal position to deliver punishment in a situation where a court order no longer exists. The order committing the five men to prison was lifted last September when Shell applied to lift the temporary injunction, which had restrained interference with pipeline works at Bellanaboy. If Justice Finnegan rules that punishment is in order for breaching a court order, a return to Cloverhill Prison may await the five men. Counsel for the five will argue that a punitive sanction is unnecessary considering the term served behind bars last summer.
Mr Justice Finnegan has previously remarked that the men did not comply with a court order and their time in prison had nothing to do with punishment.
“That could change the dynamic considerably were he to return the men to prison. Obviously then there’s no mediation and we’re back to square one in some ways,” said Mark Garavan, who is also critical of local politicians and members of the opposition for failing to take Minister Dempsey to task over the mediation breakdown.
“I’m hugely disappointed that there is no political reaction to this. To me it’s a clear-cut act of bad face by the Government, and I can’t get over that local politicians are not concerned by what’s going on,” he added.
“If he [Minister Dempsey] was minded to have a resolution he would be doing his damnedest to make sure that mediation was back on track and he would be doing whatever he could to make it happen, and create the conditions under which it could happen. You would also think that he would be subject to criticism from the opposition for his handling of it. But there’s complete silence.”

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