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Irish Times: Independent TDs not to attend debate: A debate on the Corrib gas pipeline planned for tomorrow had already been cancelled because the Shell to Sea campaign declined to participate if the debate was chaired by Mr Cooney. Wednesday August 24, 2005

 

Carol Coulter in Ballina

 

Humbert Summer School: The Humbert-Davitt summer school was in crisis last night following the withdrawal of two TDs from a debate on the role of independents in politics.

 

MEP Marian Harkin TD and Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy decided late last night not to participate in the debate because the school's director John Cooney had withdrawn his invitation to Dr Jerry Cowley.

 

Their decision followed talks between Mr Cooney, and Ms Harkin and Ms Murphy, aimed at averting the cancellation of today's session.

 

A debate on the Corrib gas pipeline planned for tomorrow had already been cancelled because the Shell to Sea campaign declined to participate if the debate was chaired by Mr Cooney.

 

The summer school was formally opened last night by former MEP, John Hume, who said he hoped the war in Iraq would be the last war in the history of the world and that international relations would proceed on the basis of respect for difference.

 

Mr Cooney told The Irish Times that Dr Cowley's invitation had been withdrawn because Dr Cowley had voted for the decision of the Shell to Sea campaign not to participate in the debate. "I was not prepared for him to come here as a Trojan horse and the school to be hijacked," he said.

 

Asked if he was prepared to allow someone else to chair the session, he said: "My chairmanship was non-negotiable. It was my initiative. I've been involved in this school for 19 years. They were objecting to me. It was very insulting. Shell was participating on the basis of my chairmanship."

 

Asked if the school was sponsored by Shell, Mr Cooney said it had received Shell sponsorship over the past three years but he said he was not taking Shell sponsorship this year.

 

"I wanted to create a climate for discussion," he said. "It would have been a unique opportunity for experts to discuss the issue. We were bringing all the parties together. The Shell to Sea campaign wrecked it."

 

Dr Cowley told The Irish Times that the Shell to Sea campaign had declined to participate in the debate because there was a concern that Mr Cooney would not be an independent chairman. Referring to the school name he said: "I think if Michael Davitt was alive today he would be in jail with the Rossport Five defending people's rights to live in safety on the land."

 

Ms Harkin said she was shocked when she heard of the withdrawal of the invitation to Dr Cowley. She arranged a meeting with Ms Murphy and Mr Cooney to seek to have the invitation reinstated.

 

Ms Murphy said she was also very concerned about the withdrawal of the invitation to Dr Cowley as she was personally committed to freedom of speech.

 

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