DEBATE ON N.I. FRACKING PREVENTED

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The 12 candidates answer questions from the floor

Candidates from all parties sign the pledge

Twelve candidates attended a Hustings event in Manorhamilton on Saturday 13th organised by Love Leitrim.  All twelve from different parties and independents signed the pledge that they would support legislation to ban fracking in Ireland and confirmed that commitment at the meeting.  This support included Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Labour, Greens, People Before Profit and Independents.

Meeting disrupted before questions could be asked about NI drilling

However, the greatest threat to Ireland from fracking at present, the proposal to commence drilling in North Belfast this week, was not even mentioned or discussed.  Before this subject could be introduced, the meeting was completely disrupted by a small group who refused to allow the discussion to continue.  The Chairman, Johnny Gogan, had to close the meeting prematurely and it ended in disarray.

“I am very upset that a small number of protesters seem to consider public meetings to be an opportunity for anarchic disturbances for their own sake”, said Dr Aedín McLoughlin Director of GEAI.  “We were there as members of the campaign against fracking, and it was our intention to bring up the Belfast threat, which is really serious and is not getting the attention it deserves.  People don’t realise the danger – Infrastrata, an oil/gas company, has issued leaflets to all houses nearby that they intend to come on site in Woodburn Forest this week and start drilling an exploratory well over a mile deep, exactly as Tamboran proposed in Belcoo.  The site is 400 yards from a water reservoir serving 2,000 houses in Carrick-on-Fergus and North Belfast.

Yet there is little publicity around this.  One candidate I spoke to after the meeting was not even aware of this proposal.  Sinn Féin, who are an all-island party, have not issued any public statement in Leitrim on the situation and in the North, have not issued any statement of concern at the Stormont Assembly.  At our meeting, they kept referring to their Party policy as opposing fracking.  Is this policy only South of the border?

Infrastrata (the oil/gas company) say that this well will not be fracked.  This is quite possible – it is an exploratory well.  However, if they find oil or gas, there is absolutely no guarantee that fracking will not commence – and hundreds of wells could be fracked.  In addition, this drilling is due to start without a Waste Treatment Plan in place.  Why is the Northern Ireland government not stepping in, as it did with Tamboran?  Why are the main political parties not preventing the drill?  All these questions should have been asked at the Hustings but unfortunately, were prevented from so doing.”

 

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Tamboran’s licence terminated!

Good news for Fermanagh (and Leitrim) last night

The news went out at 6pm that the Minister had terminated Tamboran’s exploration licence.  Their initial licence was for three years, during which time they were to do some works, including drilling a borehole and analysing rock samples.  In March 2014 they requested a six-month extension on this licence to allow them time to do the work (until 30th September).  In July they arrived on site in Belcoo with the intention of drilling the 1,200m borehole in the Acheson and Glover quarry, setting off an extensive protest by residents, farmers and campaigners, together with a 24-hour camp at the quarry entrance.

No drilling rig arrived.  Instead, it was discovered by campaigners that the quarry did not have planning permission for activities that had already taken place – excavation, blasting, removal of rock.  Also, there were questions over the environmental impacts of these activities on a stream that runs from the quarry into Lough MacNean. An EIS was called for and many representations were made to the Minister for Environment, Mark H. Durkan.  On August 11th, the Minister made the decision that an EIS would indeed be required, given the quarry’s planning situation.

Now, time has run out for Tamboran.

On 30th September their licence expired and the Minister Arlene Foster has not allowed another extension but has terminated the licence.  GREAT NEWS FOR THE CAMPAIGN!

However, we have to strike a note of caution.  FRACKING HAS NOT GONE AWAY!  It was pointed out to us last night that

  • Tamboran are looking for a judicial review of the decisions made by the two Ministers.  It’s not over until this is completed.
  • The Minister said that someone else could apply next week – Northern Ireland is still open for business.  However, if there was a new application, it would have to include a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which includes public consultation and certainly would delay the project considerably.
AND, of course, Ballinlea and Carrickfergus are still in the line of fire.  Our attention must focus on them immediately; the campaign must get behind what the local groups are doing and give them all the support we can.

 

Fracking – a Cross-Community issue in Fermanagh!

County Fermanagh is truly a lakeland county – one of the most beautiful places in the world with pristine rivers and lakes, lush greenery and people with extraordinary integrity.  Together with the rest of Northern Ireland, the Fermanagh people come from the two traditions of Unionist and Nationalist.  They have been through the trauma caused by the 30 years of conflict and are just starting to feel comfortable with the notion of peace and building relationships between the two traditions.  The violence is gone but the scars remain of all the horrors that both communities suffered during that time.  This post-conflict time, as it is known, is one of fragile peace, hightened sensitivies and slow re-building of trust.

And now – Fracking is proposed in this beautiful and fragile area!

At a recent meeting in the Church of Ireland Hall in Letterbreen organised by the cross-community group LAMP, up to 300 people from all denominations (and none) gathered together to hear about the proposal for Fracking in Fermanagh.  It was an extraordinary occasion, where the whole community united against a project that would impact on their water, their land, their air and their quality of life and health.  Person after person – young, older, Catholic, Protestant, rural, urban – all spoke out and condemned the proposal by Tamboran Resources to start drilling in their neighbourhood in order to find out whether it would be possible to extract shale gas using fracking.  All politicians from all parties were challenged to stand up and fight the proposal.  All parties present met the challenge (DUP were absent).

Tom Elliott MLA speaking at LAMP meeting 29th July

Tom Elliott MLA speaking at LAMP meeting 29th July

And this cross-community, cross-party action worked!

Within 24 hours, the Fermanagh and Omagh Councillors agreed that they were opposed to fracking and called for the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss the issue.  Fermanagh District Council then called for an immediate recall of Stormont to ban Fracking, at its monthly meeting on Monday August 4.   On August 11th, Minister Mark Durkan declared his decision that the proposal to drill a borehole in Belcoo was a “development requiring full planning permission and that permitted development rights do not apply”.  Maybe even more importantly, he stated that his approach was to “proceed on the basis of the Precautionary Principle”.  This means that the onus of proof that no harm will be done rests on the Industry rather than the Community.  And this is almost impossible given the most recent reports from the US on contamination of water supplies and health impacts, especially on babies.

It is VITAL that the campaign against Fracking be supported by all communities and all sectors in each community.

It is so easy in Northern Ireland for the industry to “divide and conquer” by suggesting that the fracking issue is somehow connected with one tradition.  Fracking knows no boundaries; it knows no borders; it pollutes the air that all of us breathe, it contaminates the water that all of us drink; it damages the health of all the community regardless of tradition.  The campaign against Fracking includes people that we may not agree with or like; that does not matter in the context of this great danger that threatens us all.

People of Fermanagh – you have endured enough!

Together fight this industry.  Join the campaign, work in your own communities in whatever way you can.  Only a united campaign will win this war – a war between those who would put wealth above community, above quality of life, above the earth itself and those who want to leave the heritage of this clean and beautiful county to their children and grandchildren.   That is the true division that is taking place and it is up to us all to fight to keep God’s land pure and free from the devastation of Fracking.

Aedín McLoughlin

 

 

Victory! No drilling in Belcoo

11th August – Victory Night in Belcoo

What a night!  Campaigners in Belcoo were still trying to take it in at 9 o’clock tonight.  The campaign has won its first battle and a halt has been put to Tamboran’s attempt to drill an exploratory well without planning permission or environmental impact assessment (EIA).  All weekend, campaigners were tense, wondering what this week would bring.  There was a strong feeling that, if permission was given for drilling, the rig would arrive within hours and a confrontation seemed inevitable. There were few smiles and a lot of worry.

Then, all of a sudden, the weight was lifted off everyone’s shoulders – the verdict was given from Stormont and a big cheer went up from the camp.  “We did it!  We’ve won!” People were hugging each other, beaming, this was something that everyone could rejoice in – young, old, from both traditions, from all parties or none – it was an amazing scene.  Heavy showers were not even felt.  And to mark this new beginning, a rainbow framed the land beside the camp.

“Permitted development rights do not apply”
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Rainbow in Belcoo this evening

The Minister for Environment (N.I.), Mark H Durkan in a short speech had given his judgement.   “I have given very careful consideration to Tamboran’s proposal to drill a core of rock from Cleggan Quarry near Belcoo and whether this is permitted development under current legislation. I have concluded that this is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) development requiring full planning permission and that permitted development rights do not apply. In making this assessment I have been mindful of my Department’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected at all times and that full consideration is give to any likely significant environmental impacts of such a proposal.”

He also said, “In arriving at this decision I believe I must proceed on the basis of a precautionary principle.”  This is an important statement.  It means that the industry must prove that the proposed project is safe; this includes evaluating all risks and proposing prevention and management strategies.

We have won

But tonight is not a night for too much analysis other than knowing that, while an important battle is won, the war continues.  For tonight we can rejoice and be glad.  The overwhelming feeling is love – love of the land, love of each other, even love of this campaign that has brought us together, regardless of creed, class or culture.  And we have won!

We have shown it can be done!

 

The Belcoo Anti-fracking Camp

A testament to the strength of the campaign against fracking

Young people, older people, women, men, locals and blow-ins, visitors and those who live in or beside the camp for days or weeks on end – Belcoo camp maintains a constant 24-hour presence at the entrance to the quarry targeted for exploratory drilling.  The photo above shows some young campaigners in front of the entrance to the quarry.  On top of this fence are layers of razor wire, so sharp that an accidental brush against it caused a cut to a local person’s ear.   Behind the fence are security guards.  Patrolling the area are members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Visiting the camp entails turning off the main Enniskillen Road and following the handmade signs to the quarry.  There are signs “no alcohol, no drugs” as well as the expected “No fracking” signs.  Prominant on the fence is the Code of Conduct agreed by the campaigners.  Peaceful protest;  respect each other, the police and people who do not agree with us, no personal attacks; those are some of the conditions.  Also on the fence is pinned the terms of the injunction imposed on “Unknown Persons”, Fermanagh Fracking Aware Network, and other organisations campaigning against fracking.

Belcoo camp 1On a casual visit to the camp last Friday (August 1st) there was a lot of discussion about the injunction and its legality.  It was considered likely that it was not legally sound and that it could be challenged.  There was also much discussion about how the camp could be maintained sustainably – what it needs physically (fridge, freezer, washing machine, bottles of gas, for example), how relationships are built with local people, what will happen in the future.  Present were some people who had experience of similar operations in other parts of the country but mainly people who never would have taken part in campaigns before.  The atmosphere was calm and welcoming, there was a cup of tea offered to all visitors.

One of the most striking elements of the camp was the contrast between the entrance to the target quarry with its undertone of violence and the view on the other side of the lane of the most wonderful Fermanagh countryside – Lough MacNean stretching into the distance, wooded mountains, valleys and that peace that comes with an untouched landscape that obviously has remained the same for thousands of years.  If anything could convince one that fracking must not come to Northern Ireland, this scenario has to. Industrialisation of this area by the fossil fuel industry would be nothing short of sacrilege – one of the most beautiful counties of Ireland, where beauty and landscape heritage abound; a land coming out of a period of conflict where peace is fragile and needs to be nurtured; a people who have farmed the land for generations and have a soul connection with it.  This is no place for an industry such as fracking that would take over vast tracts of land and change them forever.

The Belcoo Camp must be supported by all who support the campaign against fracking.  Everyone who can should visit the camp and stay for as long as they can showing solidarity.  If people want to help, all it takes are the questions, “How can I help?  Is there anything  needed?”   And please pray that this commitment by so many people will result in defeat for the companies that want to take over our land and use it in ways that destroy the fabric of our communities, our environment and our spirit.

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® All rights reserved to GEAI. 2014