energy crisis | 

Billionaire gas backer secured meeting with Leo Varadkar about Shannon project

The LNG ship, ATTALOS, after travelling from Australia arrives to the UK earlier this week. Photo: PA© PA

Caroline O’

The billionaire US owner of Shannon LNG secured a meeting for his company with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar after Energy Minister Eamon Ryan turned him down.

The background to the meeting, currently the subject of a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), is revealed in new submissions to An Bord Pleanála.

Shannon LNG, owned by US energy giant New Fortress, is seeking planning permission for a €650m liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Shannon Estuary.

Numerous attempts have been made to progress the controversial project over the last 15 years, resulting in a series of legal challenges.

The latest planning application, due for decision in the next fortnight, comes amid heightened tensions over the energy crisis and differing views within the coalition over the prospect of massive new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.

The decision, due last March but postponed to September 9, is to be delayed again after almost 300 pages of documentation were sent to An Bord Pleanála last week in response to four pages of questions seeking further information.

The planning authority is also keen to consult an energy security review due for publication shortly as Government policy is that no LNG infrastructure should be permitted pending its outcome..

That policy has become shaky in recent months after numerous senior Fine Gael and Fianna Fail politicians expressed their support for LNG and the Shannon project.

In last week’s submission to An Bord Pleanála, Shannon LNG say Eamon Ryan and his officials have declined to meet with the company.

They cite one letter which states: “Our Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, Wesley R. Edens would like to meet with you, at your convenience, to discuss the EU energy situation and how New Fortress Energy can play a meaningful role in Ireland’s transition to net zero.”

The reply, sent in June, gives no explanation for declining the invitation, stating only: “Unfortunately, the Minister is unable to facilitate a meeting and sends his regrets.”

Around the same time Leo Varadkar accepted an invitation and is understood to have met Mr Edens later that month.

He has declined to give details of the meeting, which the Safety Before LNG groups has asked Sipo to investigate.

A spokesperson this week gave the same reply as when asked about the meeting on previous occasions.

“As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Tánaiste regularly meets with companies considering investing in Ireland.”

Shannon LNG in its fresh submissions plays heavily on the war in Ukraine and how it believes Ireland should change its energy policies in response.

It says Ireland should ditch gas supplies from Britain in favour of using its fuels instead. It says the move would have the knock-on effect of depriving Russia of €2bn in gas revenues a year.

It cites Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s assurances to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Kyiv last month that Ukraine had Ireland’s full support.

Despite this, it says: “Ireland continues to fund Russian gas.”

“An LNG terminal in Ireland could largely replace gas imports from Britain, which would then allow the displaced volumes to be directed to continental Europe, thereby reducing Europe’s demand for gas from Russia.”

It continues: “Every new molecule of LNG into Europe is a direct one for one replacement of gas from Russia.

“An LNG terminal in Ireland could largely replace gas imports from Britain which in turn would reduce Europe’s demand for gas from Russia by approximately €2bn per year.”

The submissions also quote from copious reports and analysis pointing to Ireland’s energy security weaknesses.

It highlights the growing dependence on the gas pipelines from Britain as the Corrib gas field depletes.

Ireland has well-established gas supply arrangements with the UK but the submissions refer several times to the British government’s bill “to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland Protocol”, implying the UK is not to be trusted.

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