Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016: Second Stage
I, too, welcome the Bill. I also welcome Deputy Pringle to the House and I commend him on being proactive.
I had not intended to speak, but I am anxious to respond to comments made by Senator Higgins in regard to a project on the Shannon Estuary, a project that I know more than a little about because I have been involved in it since its inception. I was mayor of Kerry in 2004 when the project for a liquefied natural gas terminal was mooted. I was also a director of Shannon-Foynes Port Company at the time. This project was objected to by a minority group. The group succeeded in holding up the project interminably with technical objections, resulting in the then main investor, the Hess Corporation, which had already invested upwards of €15 million, pulling out of the project, to the detriment of an area devastated by unemployment, emigration, business closures and so on.
Fortunately, in recent times a new player, New Fortress Energy, has come on the stream. This company intends to run with the project, in respect of which it had the support and backing of the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and I am sure will have the support and backing of the current Minister, Deputy Bruton, but it is again subject to objections, this time from a group that as far as I am aware has no connection with County Kerry. This group is objecting on new grounds. The original objection put forward by Safety Before LNG was on the grounds of safety, with every possible scenario put forward, including that similar terminals in other countries had blown up. On examination, however, the authorities were satisfied that there were no grounds for those objections. The most recent objections are different. I cannot comment any further because they are sub judice. No project in the history of the State has been scrutinised as much as this and passed muster. At the 11th hour, objectors from outside the area are making objections on totally new grounds related to fracking in Texas. I am not an expert on fracking but I do know that without it we would not have petrol or diesel for our cars. That is a wider issue which I do not propose to get into now.
As Senator Higgins raised the issue, which she is entitled to do, I wanted to bring balance to the issue. A whole community is awaiting commencement of this project, for which they have been waiting for 12 years. There are 500 valuable jobs at stake in an area that has been devastated by unemployment, with huge knock-on effects for the economy of Kerry, west Limerick and, possibly, County Clare. As in the case of all issues, there must be balance. I have been an environmentalist all my life, even though it suits smart alecs like The Phoenixto suggest otherwise. I have a proven record in this area at home level. There is balance to be found in every issue. I encourage the Minister of State not to be too influenced by Senator Higgins's remarks. The Senator is entitled to her opinion. I am seeking to balance the argument. I would be letting down the people of Kerry if I failed to do so.