Irish question all at sea…

ATLANTIC Philanthropies, the American group headed by multi-millionaire Sinn Fein sympathiser Chuck Feeny and which funds restoratice justice schemes in Northern Ireland, has pulled the plug on money for the Centre for Public Inquiry. The CPI is headed by Frank Connolly, the brother of Niall Connolly, one of the Colombia 3 who is wanted by the government there for his alleged role in training FARC guerillas there with an IRA team. The decision comes just after the Irish Justice Minister claimed Frank Connolly was linked to the IRA plot.

Connolly denies it, claiming a secret police file was leaked to the Irish Government and media, and is aimed at undermining his position in the CPI.

The CPI claimed to have blown the lid on what it ‘independently’ discovered were serious safety defects in the Corrib gas pipeline proposals, which Shell describe here (alternative links welcome!). A campaign against the pipeline resulted in further political controversy.

But it seems to be so much more than a straight battle between the left and the right of Irish politics,

“This report by the Centre for Public Inquiry into the Corrib gas controversy raises serious issues of public importance. The analysis, by Richard Kuprewicz, of the proposed onshore pipeline and plant will also require detailed examination by all of the parties involved” said Frank Connolly, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Inquiry.

Kuprewicz has recently been reappointed to the Pipeline Safety Committee by Washington State Governor, Christine Gregoire.

According to her website, Mr Kuprewicz has been reappointed to a term effective November 3, 2005, ending July 31, 2008. Kuprewicz is an energy systems consultant with ACCUFACTS and a member of several organizations including the federal office of Pipeline, Technical Hazardous Liquid Safety Standards Committee and the Pipeline Land Use Advisory Commission.

The Committee advises the Utilities and Transportation Commission and other appropriate federal, state and local government agencies and officials on matters relating to hazardous liquid and gas pipeline safety, routing, construction, operation, and maintenance

Mr Kuprewicz obviously has a big reputation in his (oil)field of expertise.

The Village castigated the media for a lack of favourable coverage of Kuprewicz’s report and suggested an ulterior motive for what it called “shortsighted journalism on the issue of offshore exploration”:

Newspapers in Ireland are not prepared to spend the money on investigations that is available from Atlantic Philanthropies to the Centre for Public Inquiry. But the centre’s report mentions another possible reason for shortsighted journalism on the issue of offshore exploration and who gains from it: “Providence Resources, controlled by Tony O’Reilly, the owner of Independent News and Media, is the largest Irish company involved in offshore oil and gas activity and controls significant acreages off the west coast and in the Celtic Sea.”

But with millions of euros in the pipeline – literally – perhaps it then came as no surprise to find that Mr Kuprewicz was not as independent as CPI had claimed. The Sunday Times recently reported:

Richard Kuprewicz, an American authority on pipelines, was hired by the CPI in September after his company, Accufacts Inc, failed to win the government contract in August. It went to a company called Advantica. Their official report has been completed and is expected to be issued to residents in Mayo within two weeks.

Connolly refused to state how much Kuprewicz was paid for his report but said his status as an independent expert was unquestionable. He also said the fact that Accufacts had applied for the government safety review (the Independent Safety Review of Corrib Onshore Pipeline) was already in the public domain as the company was listed in government documents. The CPI, he added, used that list of tenderers when choosing its consultants.

“Kuprewicz is a worldrenowned expert on pipelines and he is independent,” said Connolly.

Connolly said the CPI, a body which promotes transparency, was under no obligation to discuss the cost of any contracts. “We don’t discuss our commercial transactions. When we release our annual report you can look at it,” he said.

A few days ago, the Irish Examiner reported that Kuprewicz’s ‘independent’ safety investigation was “funded by American businessman Chuck Feeny”. There is no suggestion that Feeny was aware of the apparent lack of independence in the report he was funding, but it’s doubtful whether a smart guy likes to be suckered.

It’s probably only coincidence that Atlantic Philanthropies’ funding for restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland runs out in April. Looks like a clean break is inevitable there, possibly putting the British and Irish governments in a stronger position in the medium term – already State funding for restorative justice schemes after next April has become a political bargaining chip to entice Sinn Fein onto the Policing Board.

Shell and others are relying heavily on a positive report from Advantica, something Accufacts was not prepared to give. Corrib would seem to be at the centre of an Irish ideological, political and financial battleground between many different interests.