On April 19th, 2006
non LNG signed an option to purchase agreement with state-owned
Shannon Development for lands it owned at Kilcolgan,
between Tarbert and Ballylongford in County Kerry on the southern
shores of the Shannon Estuary on the south west of Ireland. It was
widely publicised in the media and announced in the Dáil, the national
parliament, as early as May 2006 that an LNG terminal would be built
However, the 281 acres of land in question had first to be rezoned to
'Industrial' use via a variation to the County Development Plan in
By law, any variation to a County Development Plan must undergo a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) if there is likely
to be a significant effect on the environment, if there is a risk of
accidents e.g involving Seveso landuse (the most hazardous designation
which an LNG terminal comes under), or if the land is adjacent to areas of
conservation sensitivity (such as Natural Habitats). An SEA examines
the cumulative impacts of a Plan (such as the creation of an oil and
gas energy hub on the southern shores of the Shannon Estuary) and is
therefore region and strategic specific whereas an Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) is project specific. The propsed LNG terminal site is
adjacent to SAC, NHA and SPA designated areas.
Shannon LNG informed the planning authority (An Bord Pleanála) on
February 6th, 2007 that it wanted the project to be considered under
the new Strategic Infrastructure Act 2006. An Bord Pleanála informed
Kerry County Council in February 2007 of this fact and the Shannon LNG
project had already been discussed at the County Council meeting on
June 20th, 2006. Shannon LNG had even paid Shannon Development -
whose director John Brassil (now Chairman) was a member of Kerry County
Council at the time - €493,000 at least three months before the land was rezoned. The same
councillor Brassil canvassed the support of the Executive of Kerry
County Council at the council meeting of June 20th 2006 to give the LNG
project "every support
" and it was agreed at that meeting that the Shannon LNG project progress would "be overseen by a sub committee of the senior management team
The screening report to determine whether or not an SEA should be
undertaken was contracted out to consultants RPS, who never mentioned
the proposed LNG terminal on their report. RPS later confirmed to
the council that "they were unaware of the proposed LNG proposal at the the time of the screening process
A reputable company should have been aware of the media, council
and parliamentary discussions of an LNG terminal. Kerry County Council
later confirmed that it was "unaware as to whether or not the consultants were aware of the LNG proposal as it was in the public arena at the time
We believe that the pressure to fast-track the rezoning for the Shannon
LNG terminal took precedence over following the correct procedures to
the detriment of the Shannon Estuary, its environment and environs and
of the people living in and owning property adjacent to the propsed LNG
project and route of LNG tankers travelling in the Estuary. In other
words, there was no due regard for sustainable and integrated planning
by the council in its actions.
It was therefore decided to lodge 2 formal complaints, one to the Office of
the Ombudsman and one to the Standards in Public Office Commission. We were,
however, cognisant of the fact that any decision that would find that
the lands were illegally rezoned would automatically bring into question
the legality of the planning permission obtained for the Shannon LNG
terminal. It was always, therefore, going to be difficult to obtain a
Complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman
This complaint was sent following the refusal by Kerry County Council to
undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) before
rezoning lands for the proposed Shanon LNG terminal.
The Ombudsman's Office agreed with Kerry County Council that:
"to have considered Shannon LNG as part of the screening process
would have involved a different type of specific zoning e.g. zoned
specifically for a gas storage and importation terminal”.
'Safety Before LNG' completely disagreed with this analysis because the lands only needed to be zoned 'Industrial'
for an LNG terminal (as that is what they are zoned at now for the
LNG terminal). No other specific zoning was needed.
The Ombudsman also agreed with Kerry County Council that in the
rezoning decision it could not be "assessed on a project specific
". This analysis, however, does not take account of the fact that
an SEA is region and strategic specific and had to be undertaken as the
Shannon LNG was a project "likely
to occur, was hazardous, would cause pollutiion and was proposed near
and surrounding environmentally-designated sensitive areas.
decision of the Ombudsman's Office has now been appealed to the
Petitions Committe of the European Parliament, which has declared the
petition valid and which has opened a dialogue with Ireland on the
issue. The EU has, in an interim ruling on January 2010, found that an
SEA should have been completed after all vindicating the 'Safety Before
LNG' position. Click here for latest information on the EU Petition and Findings
to download the entire Ombudsman Investigation into the refusal to
undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Shannon
LNG land rezoning decision (14 MB).
Complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission
The complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission was sent
concerning the fact that Councillors John Brassil and Ned O'Sullivan
(now Senator and member of the Oireachtas Commitee on Climate Change
and Security of Energy Supply) voted at the Kerry County Council
meeting of March 12th 2007 to rezone the lands at Kilcolgan
without declaring their interests of directorships of companies
benefitting from the Council decision.
John Brassil was a director of Shannon Development, the owners of the
land rezoned and Ned O'Sullivan was a director of Shannon Foynes Port
Company. The consequence of Kerry County Council not informing
RPS about the Shannon LNG project (if that was indeed the case) was
that the statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment Report was
The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) did acknowledge that
the directorships held by Councillor Brassil and Senator Ned O’Sullivan
were both declarable and beneficial interests by virtue of Section
176(2) of the Local Government Act 2001.
However, SIPO then decided that there was no need for the 2
directors to declare their beneficial interest (an interest which was
accepted by SIPO as being a beneficial interest and which is clearly
defined in the legislation) at local authority meetings where their
respective companies would gain millions of euros following the
decision of Kerry County Council to rezone rural and secondary special
amenity land to industrial for an LNG terminal because the interest was
SIPO stated that the beneficial interest was not “material” because it
could not be proved that the directors gained any personal benefit from
However, Section 176 (3) of the Local Government Act 2001 determines
the only conditions under which a person voting in a motion does not
have to declare the beneficial interest as follows:
person shall not be regarded as having a beneficial interest which has
to be disclosed under this Part where section 167 (3) is applicable or
because of - (a) an interest which is so remote or insignificant that
it cannot be reasonably regarded as likely to influence a person in
considering or discussing, or in voting on, any question with respect
to the matter or in performing any function in relation to that matter
(b) being a ratepayer or a local authority tenant and in common with
other ratepayers or tenants, or (c) any other circumstances which
may be prescribed by regulations made by the Minister”.
Section 167(3) only applies to shareholders, not directors and there are no relevant regulations prescribed by the Minister.
Voting in a land rezoning deal which is worth millions to the companies
of which the councillors were also directors cannot be said to be so
remote or insignificant an interest that it would not influence
director’s decision to vote on the motion.
Indeed, both directors have openly admitted that they were influenced by their positions as directors as follows:
Director Brassil told the “Kerryman” Newspaper of September 11th 2008:
“I have always acted for the benefit of the people I serve and bringing 500 jobs and a €500 million investment to north Kerry is absolutely what I’m elected for”.
Director O’Sullivan told the “Kerryman” Newspaper of September 17th 2008:
”I was doubly obliged to assist the LNG project as both a member of Kerry County Council and as a member of the port company”.
It has come to the attention of 'Safety Before
LNG' from information
received on December 2009 under a Freedom of Information request that
from 2005 to November 2009, John Brassil obtained from Shannon
Development €87,504 in Director's Fees, €20,966.09 in mileage,
in taxis, buses and trains, €97.20 in parking, €262.16 in sundries and
€231.49 in foreign travel - giving a total of €109,557.09 in
received by him from Shannon Development in that time period. This new
information was forwarded by 'Safety Before LNG' to SIPO on March 2010.
Shannon & Foynes Port Company is not open to Freedom of information
requests and it is therefore not possible to determine exactly the
Director's Fees obtained by Senator O'Sullivan.
This decision has left a lingering doubt of a lack of
transparency by the Standards in Public Office Commission that would
seem to point to suspicion in our minds of susceptibility to political
considerations, and therefore interference, in its
A dangerous precedent has now been created in allowing increased
corporate influence on local authority decisions. This goes far beyond
the remit allowed in legislation to the Commission. SIPO has now
decided that directors of any companies who are also on local
authorities where votes which will enrich those same companies are
taking place do not have to declare these interests if they are not
personally benefitting from the tansaction (something which is
difficult to prove in the first place).
'Safety Before LNG' is of the opinion that this precedent would be
created without proper authority, would be improperly discriminatory,
would create an undesirable administrative practice and would be
contrary to fair and sound administration.
A request for a clarification from the Minister concerned on whether or
not a directorship now no longer needs to be declared under
section 177 of the Local Government Act 2001 was submitted by 'Safety
Before LNG'. As the minister's office refused to decide on the matter
the issue was forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman on March 2010.
to download the entire Standards in Public Office Investigation into
the non-disclosure of directorships by councillors John Brassil and Ned
O'Sullivan at the Shannon LNG land rezoning decision (18.7 MB).