Belfast Telegraph

Judge warns drill protesters not to obstruct workers

By Linda Stewart

Protesters opposed to a controversial oil and gas borehole have been warned they could be banned from a forest road if they obstruct workers.

InfraStrata, which wants to carry out exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest in Co Antrim, sought permission yesterday to evict 10 people who were taking part in a Stop The Drill protest on a forest access road, but a High Court judge refused to grant the order immediately.

Lord Justice Girvan adjourned the application to 11am today, three hours after InfraStrata's contractors are due to move on site to begin work on the exploratory drill.

A barrister for InfraStrata said it was trying to regain possession of the land and if specialist contractors can't get on site, it will cost the company £8,000 per day.

"If access has been gained, then we can decide what the best way forward is," Lord Justice Girvan said.

"If access has been obstructed, then your argument for an injunction is unanswerable."

The judge said there is currently no evidence of obstruction and InfraStrata do not have any right of possession over the forest road, although the company does have a right of access. The site is owned by Northern Ireland Water, with InfraStrata licensed to carry out exploratory drilling.

Lord Justice Girvan said that if InfraStrata is able to access the drill site, there is no issue with trespass, even if a protest is mounted.

Proceedings were issued on Tuesday night against 10 named protesters, who had been identified using posts, photos and videos on Twitter and Facebook as well as media interviews.

The court papers were distributed to people at the protest site at Paisley Road and were posted on a pillar on the access road.

But Michael Lavery, counsel for some of the protesters, insisted that they had done nothing wrong and had a right of way on the roadway, just as InfraStrata does.

"They are not some lunatic fringe, they are responsible people," he said.

"I've talked to some of the people in the court here today and they don't intend to obstruct anybody tomorrow - but they want to be able to observe.

"None of them are going to obstruct any machinery, if that is a concern, but they have a right to be there."

Mr Lavery said he understands that a private individual is planning to apply for a judicial review against Mid and East Antrim Council's decision to approve InfraStrata's Waste Management Plan.

Barrister John Maxwell, for InfraStrata, said that in applying to evict the protesters, he thought it would be prudent to make sure the situation did not escalate.

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