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Ministers in talks with Corrib opponents

The Mayo News

TUESDAY, 20 JANUARY 2009
Áine Ryan 

TWO Government ministers, Eamon Ryan and Éamon Ó Cuív, spent almost four hours in private talks in Belmullet yesterday (Monday) with community groups opposing the controversial Corrib gas project. They were accompanied by the chairman of the recently-established Community Forum for Development in North West Mayo, Joe Brosnan. 

Both sides confirmed last night that the talks were constructive and will continue again soon, but there was an agreement that details would not be publicised.

“We had positive discussions and are very aware of the need for a solution to the dispute over the project. We are also committed to ongoing dialogue with the groups,” said Minister Ó Cuív afterwards.

Mr John Monaghan, spokesman for Pobal Chill Chomáin, said the meeting had revealed ‘a glimmer of hope’ and ‘the potential for the beginning of a process’.

“All sides are now more appreciative of the complexities involved and of the primacy of community consent. We’ve also informed the ministers about the history of community distrust and why we could not participate in the forum,” said Mr Monaghan.

The groups, Pobal Chill Chomáin and Pobal le Chéile, had refused to engage with the forum – when its inaugural session was held in early December –  due to ‘its restricted terms of reference’, which they claim do not include community consent and the possible relocation of the refinery to a remote onshore site.  

Last week they wrote to Mr Brosnan, a retired civil servant, and urged him to make ‘a gesture’ that might lead to the building of community trust. The letter also stressed that the focus of the forum must be on finding ‘a solution’ rather than creating ‘an illusion’, and must place the health and safety of the receiving community on par with the bringing of the Corrib gas to the market. 

Protest group Shell to Sea declined the invitation, extended on Thursday last by Joe Brosnan, to the contingency talks. 

“We will not engage with anybody in talks that are carried out behind closed doors. We would feel it is dishonest to partake in such discussions that are not open to the people, are not independently chaired and are not fully recorded,” said Maura Harrington.

Instead, the group invited the ministers to a People’s Forum held at the same Belmullet venue yesterday.

“The people of Kilcommon parish, who formed the majority of people attending the People’s Forum, were bitterly disappointed that the ministers, who travelled at public expense to the area, could not come into the room to listen to the people,” said Maura Harrington. 

The parish priest of Kilcommon, Fr Michael Nallen, attended yesterday’s talks, as well as a number of other representatives of both groups, along with Government officials.

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