Updated: 03/05/12 : 06:23:56
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'Business Group Accept Bribe From Fracking Company' Says TD

A voluntary business association have been accused by a member of Dáil Eireann (Irish Parliament) of accepting a 'bribe' from the mining exploration company at the centre of the fracking controversy in the Northwest, Tamboran Resources.

The Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum (MEF) received a €20,000 donation from the fracking company to help offset the costs of the planning application process and design phase for the development of a new hotel in the Leitrim town.

The acceptance of the money was condemned by Sligo/Nth Leitrim TD, Michael Colreavy who described the gift as a 'bribe' on local radio Oceanfm and confirmed this belief to SligoToday.ie. The Manorhamilton-based Sinn Féin TD also called for the money to be immediately returned to Tamboran Resources (TR).

Deputy Colreavy told SligoToday.ie, “I am surprised and extremely disappointed that members of the Forum have sought and accepted this money from a Company seeking to establish an industry that has the potential to cause massive damage in North Leitrim. It defies belief that the so-called “unconditional” donation was accepted in advance of a report by the Environmental Protection Agency in relation to the impact of Fracking on the environment, on water supplies, and on human and animal health."

The concerned TD continued, "When I first read the anonymous statement on the Forum’s website I thought it was a joke – imagine seeking €20,000 towards the cost of providing a hotel in an area where tourism as well as agriculture would be destroyed by the activities of the donors.

"I now understand that this decision was made behind closed doors by a small number of Forum members, and that the general membership of the Forum was unaware of the meeting or the intention to accept a donation from Tamboran Resources."

'Refused To Comment'

SligoToday.ie spoke to MEF Chairman Tony Feeney, however the local businessman, an auctioneer, refused to comment on the situation. When pressed to comment on the acceptance of the money he said, "I don't have to say anything" while confirming that MEF is a private limited company and is not funded, in any way, by public money. Despite several requests to Mr Feeney and MEF, by telephone, email and text, for an interview or an official statement, none has as yet been forthcoming.

The MEF's website has now been taken offline.

Richard Moorman, the CEO of TR in a statement to SligoToday.ie stated, "The Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum has asked over 20 companies across Ireland to assist them in revitalising the Manorhamilton area with a hotel planning application. The MEF very effectively made their point to us that the lack of a hotel in the Manorhamilton area hinders business and tourism opportunities, as well as employment and development potential for the greater North Leitrim area. Tamboran Resources is very pleased to have stepped up to assist them with their plans to benefit their community."

Richard Moorman, Tamboran Resources' CEO openly met with protesters at public meetings
Photo: Leitrim Observer

Mr Moorman's statement continued, "Additionally, we will establish a substantial community investment fund to ensure all benefits are shared at local as well as national levels. We consider it essential to deliver a direct benefit for local residents. Tamboran undertakes to operate safely and our commitment to openness and transparency will remain every step of the way.

"Tamboran expects to continue to support worthwhile community projects in County Leitrim (and County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland), the two Counties in which Tamboran aspires to conduct its operations and to hire and train hundreds of local residents over the coming decades," concluded the statement from Mr Moorman.

Campaigning group, No Fracking Ireland said they "regretted to learn that Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum have decided to take €20,000 from Tamboran Resources.

'Like Selling Your Soul'

"MEF claim to be working at promoting tourism, fracking runs counter to this worthy objective. Only weeks prior to this announcement by the Manorhamilton business group, visiting German geoscientist and politician Helmut Fehr appealed to locals not to sell out to this highly controversial and damaging industry stating, “Don’t take the company’s money it is like selling your soul.

"No Fracking Ireland understands that this is a common tactic used by gas companies to get a 'foot in the door' into local communities, receive good public relations and eventually divide communities during hard times when people feel they have no choice but to accept anything on offer, regardless of the consequences. This has been the case in several states in the U.S. and Australia where fracking companies continue to railroad through communities using the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic of offering money to various local groups and businesses as a “sweetner”.

Of course, in accepting this money the perception now is that Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum is endorsing Tamborans’ plans and are clearly in a ‘you scratch our back and we’ll scratch your back’ deal. How will Tamboran be repaid for their generous offering? By simply getting locals to accept their money, in return all Tamboran ask for is your silence on the fracking issue. "

'Make No Mistake'

Deputy Colreavy added, "Make no mistake – this was not and is not an act of selfless generosity on the part of Tamboran Resources; this is the first known attempt by the Company to buy the silence or the cooperation of key groups locally. I would be surprised if the same approaches are not made to other community and sporting groups locally. This underhand practice has the potential to drive a deep divide between people locally – just as Shell did in Rossport.

"I am aware of and have always supported Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum as they attempted to improve community and business life in the area. I would enthusiastically support the development of hotel facilities in Manorhamilton. However, I cannot and will not support the seeking and acceptance of donations from Companies whose sole motivation is profit, and who care nothing for the area or the people of North Leitrim.

"I strongly urge Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum to review and reverse this unwise decision and to return this donation; and I ask all community and sporting groups to recognise Tamboran’s agenda and to reject out of hand any offers of donations, no matter how worthy the project being sponsored” concluded Deputy Colreavy.

'Fraught With Legal Obstacles'

SligoToday.ie understands that St. Clare's Hall, a former Roman Catholic Church dating back to 1810 is MEF's preferred choice for the proposed new hotel. However, according to local informed sources, it is believed that planning permission for a hostel on the site has already been granted and that the proposed change of use to a licenced hotel is expected to be fraught with legal obstacles and objections.

Meanwhile the Government confirmed yesterday that it is to seek further scientific advice on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas from underground reserves before making any decision on exploration licensing.

Minister of State for Natural Resources Fergus O’Dowd confirmed in the Dáil yesterday that a second more comprehensive study on impacts is to be carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).