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Expert hired by department for Corrib inspection lacked training to access tunnel

Minister Pat Rabbitte said the representative did not require access to the tunnel to complete the task he was sent to do, which was not health and safety related.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated 04/11/2013

A CONSULTANT EXPERT for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources did not have sufficient training to enter tunnels at the time of a site assessment at the Corrib gas pipeline.

It has emerged that a representative from Environ, the independent consultants appointed by the department to assist in monitoring conditions of consent to construct the Corrib gas pipeline, conducted a visit on 2 and 3 July this year.


In response to a parliamentary question from TD Richard Boyd Barrett, Minister Pat Rabbitte said the purpose of the “brief visit” was to review the points raised on a previous visit and assess the possible reasons for “depressions” in Sruwaddaccon Bay that had been recently reported by locals. He said the expert was also there to examine “what lessons have been learned from these incidents”.

The Environ report of the visit, dated 8 July, 2013 confirmed that there was an opportunity to view the site, but due to the need to be certified for confined space work, there was no opportunity to visit the tunnel.

Rabbitte said the confined space course is of two-day duration and as the Environ representative had not completed this safety training it was not possible on safety grounds for him to enter the tunnel.

In early September the German man in his 20s died after suffering head injuries while working in that particular tunnel as part of the maintenance support crew at the site in Mayo.

However the minister stressed that matters with regard to workplace health and safety are a matter for the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and are beyond the remit of Environ and that the purpose of the visit of the department’s expert did not require access to the tunnel.


Tunnelling work is suspended due the incident in September and both Shell and the HSA are carrying out investigations. Rabbitte said that Shell is not under investigation as the man’s employer was a German tunnelling company.

Shell’s own investigation is now complete and the findings have been handed over to the HSA, a spokesperson for the company said this week.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Boyd Barrett said the reason he asked the question was because of suspicions among locals about “major problems” in the areas where the company is drilling. He said there is concern that no independent assessments of the drilling tunnels have been conducted to examine the impact of the drilling on the local area.

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“I’ve heard that the guards weren’t allowed in [beforehand] either and when you have someone dying in there and no department officials have been down, no guards have been down, then the only people looking at it are Shell,” he said.

“The government seem to be in bed with Shell, they just do whatever these companies want them to do,” he added.

A spokesperson for Shell clarified that gardaí had been granted access to the tunnel as part of the ongoing investigation into the man’s death but could not confirm whether they had ever been in the tunnel before this incident occurred.

TheJournal.ie made enquiries about whether any Environ staff have the required training to gain access to the tunnel at the Corrib project. The company referred all questions to the department which said “access to the tunnel was not required by Environ to satisfactorily carry out” the task it was there to do.

An earlier version of this report referred to an explosion in the tunnel at the time of the man’s death. Information revealed by a Shell spokesperson since then about its internal investigation confirmed that no explosion took place during the incident.

Read: Man killed in industrial accident at Corrib gas tunnel>

Read: Shell loses licence to operate controversial Mayo gas terminal>

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