Monday, May 7, 2012
Who owns our natural resources?
This blog left the Dáil late last Wednesday night and traveled to Castlebar in County Mayo. It was a beautiful evening and a peaceful drive – if a bit long. Mayo is a beautiful part of the country. I have been there many times over the years most recently in March for a public meeting on the crisis in Rural Ireland.
After that event I met with some community activists from Rossport in County Mayo who have been involved for many years in the campaign around Shell and the Corrib gas field.
They briefed myself and Martin Ferris about their ongoing concerns, including the behaviour of the Gardai and the actions of the private security firm, Integrated Risk Management Services (IRMS), that is used by Shell in the area.
I told them I would visit the area and last Thursday morning we arrived into Bangor and met local Sinn Féin activists and Corrib gas community activists.
I travelled around several of the Shell sites and visited the Shell-to-Sea camp. This blog witnessed for myself the unnecessary numbers of Gardaí being used to protect the Shell facilities – the Garda presence has cost €20 million thus far and at a time when other communities are being stripped of Garda stations on Garda numbers.
There was also a large number of uniformed private security guards employed by Shell at all the sites and along parts of the road. These men were all dressed alike in dark blue uniforms, with yellow bibs and hard hats. On a cold, overcast morning they were all wearing dark glasses. Although we were on the public road they made a point of coming out from behind their gate to stand and stare. Their behavior was reminiscent of the RUC of old. The atmosphere was tense and intimidatory and for local people who have to put up with this everyday it is clearly intrusive and unwelcome.
At one point we were passed by a convoy of Shell lorries. A Garda Van preceded the convoy which then had a second Garda van at the head of the convoy proper. There was then an IRMS van behind that; then the lorries and then a follow up IRMS car and Garda car. I was told that this is typical and is used even when Shell is disposing of septic tank waste.
After touring the sites I met with some of the community activists, including some who were imprisoned, to discuss the situation. It is clear there are two broad dimensions to this issue. One is the Shell operation. And the other is the very invasive security operation that accompanies it.
We discussed the legal avenues available for challenging both. The Bay where the Shell operation is advancing is an NHA (National Heritage Area) and is also designated by the European Union as an SAC (Special Area of Conservation).
In addition last November the European Commission renewed its threat to impose substantial fines on the Irish government if turf-cutting takes place on protected bogs this year. EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik told MEPs that he may seek a legal injunction if it is found that EU environment law is being defied.
The Commissioner was speaking as environmentalists told the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament that the EU’s habitats directive has been consistently broken.
At the same time Shell is digging a huge tunnel through bogland to facilitate gas pipes coming ashore from the gas fields. It appears to this blog that Shell could well be driving a coach and horses through EU law. It is also likely that Shell may be in breach of a Parks and Wildlife recommendation.
There is work to be done in respect of all of this.
There is also the outstanding issue of the contracts under which Shell is carrying out this work and the absence of benefit coming to the state from the exploitation of this very valuable natural resource. The government needs to learn from the Norwegian approach to the exploitation of natural resources.
It also should also take urgent action to cut the excessive policing bill, lessen tension in the area by reducing the numbers of Gardai involved in protecting Shell, and by curbing the intrusive tactics of the private security firm.
Decades of mismanagement and dishonest decisions by government has resulted in a handover of our natural resources to multi-national companies with little benefit to the Irish people.
It was a corrupt Fianna Fáil Minister, Ray Burke, who introduced new licensing terms in 1987, abolished royalties and state participation in the exploration of our oil and gas reserves.
Companies were given 100% tax write offs for exploration and development costs. This was reinforced 5 years later when the then Finance Minister Bertie Ahern reduced corporation tax on oil profits to 25% and new licensing terms, beneficial to the multi-nationals, were also introduced.
But the exploitation of the Corrib Gas field also illustrates the failure of government to have a sensible partnership agreement with the exploration company. Corrib will bring little or no benefit either to the local community or to the Irish people. In addition, the gas will be sold to An Bord Gáis at the market rate.
This government, on behalf of citizens, should now move to acquire a majority state shareholding in our oil and gas. The government should also introduce an effective taxation and royalty regime that ensures that this state has the financial resources to get rid of the state debt, and regain our economic sovereignty by ending the involvement of the EU and IMF and ECB in our affairs.
A sensible exploitation strategy would also provide the funding necessary to create jobs and build a first class public service infrastructure fit for purpose for the 21st century.
The island of Ireland is rich in natural resources. The natural resources include natural gas, petroleum, peat, copper, lead, dolomite, barite, limestone, gypsum, silver and some zinc. Industries based on these and other natural resources include fishing, farming, forestry and mining.
The Democratic Programme of the First Dáil Eireann declared that ‘the nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation’ and that ‘all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare’.
Contrary to this successive Irish Governments have sold off our natural resources. Far from ensuring that those resources have been used to the benefit of the Irish people Irish governments have squandered them in a most shameful manner. This has to change.