From Socialist Voice, August 2005

All natural resources should be nationalised

The jailing of five people from the Rossport area of County Mayo for contempt of court has once again brought into sharp focus the vast natural resources off our coast, as well as on land. The five men were jailed for failing to obey a High Court ruling ordering them to stop picketing the pipeline works being built on their land by Shell Oil, which would bring gas from the Corrib gas field.
    Foreign transnational corporations like Shell own all the natural resources of our country. The Irish people get little or no return from the exploitation of these valuable and increasingly scarce resources. Already the Kinsale gas field is almost depleted.
    Earlier this year the government issued new exclusive licences for exploiting new areas of Irish territorial waters off the north-west coast. According to all accounts, Shell will have secured additional licences to further exploit and explore for oil and gas.
    An area of more than 15,800 sq. km, known as the Rockall Basin, was up for grabs; and every company that secures a licence will have exclusive exploration rights there for up to sixteen years. This is one year more than what was allowed for in the 1992 licensing terms. Those terms are very generous indeed, having been negotiated by one Ray Burke TD, now convicted of corruption, who was the minister responsible for natural resources and for handing out licences at the time. This itself should raise serious question about the initiation of the whole scheme in the first place.
    These giant corporations pay a small fee for the licence; then all they have to do is sink one well and they have exclusive rights for sixteen years and will own whatever hydrocarbons they find, be it oil or gas.

What do the Irish people get?

Under the modified terms of 1992, the exploration companies will only have to pay 25 per cent tax on declared taxable profits. So how are these “taxable profits” calculated? If we take Shell and the Corrib gas field as an example, the taxable amount is calculated after writing off all exploration and development costs. They can even include the cost of closing down the wells when the resources are depleted. Little or nothing will come to the Irish people. This is virtually giving away a valuable natural resource for nothing.
    In Norway, oil corporations have to pay 78 per cent tax. The government keeps a very tight control on their natural resources, and the control and use of those resources was one of the main arguments for Norway not joining the EEC (later the European Union). They wanted to retain as much power and control as possible at home in Norwegian hands—which is the direct opposite of what was done by the cabal of businessmen and gombeen politicians who have sold off our country to transnational corporations and the European Union.
    The licence terms are such that these companies will control these areas of the sea-bed for such a long time that they consider it to be a permanent control. The Irish government have shown themselves to be so completely subservient to transnational corporations that they have committed themselves to not increasing or changing the tax rate. There is not even an obligation to land in Ireland whatever oil or gas is found in our waters.
    Another example of the way the government sells out our natural resources is the fact that Shell confirmed that a well they sank in the Corrib field two years ago, which they sealed and recently reopened, has revealed a “substantial gas condensate column”; so they have extensive knowledge of what is out there and are sitting on it as the price of oil and gas continues to rise, along with their profits. Another reason for sitting on them is to make sure that the terms and conditions remain the same, in complete favour of the transnational corporations.

The rise and fall of the Resources Protection Campaign

In the early 1970s we saw the emergence of a growing and influential campaign to protect our natural resources and to develop them in a planned way to meet the needs of the Irish people, to build up an indigenous industrial base around the oil and gas, such as Tara Mines (County Meath), Silvermines (County Tipperary), and numerous other known reserves of natural resources. The Resources Protection Campaign was an alliance of the left of the Labour Party, Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party (as the Workers’ Party was then called), the CPI, and left independents.
    One of the successes of the Resources Protection Campaign was that the then minister responsible for natural resources, Justin Keating (Labour Party), did bring in regulations in relation to the exploitation of our natural resources and the stake that would accrue to the Irish state. The tax rate from 1975 for oil and gas companies was 50 per cent, there was an automatic 50 per cent stake by the state in any commercial well, and there were royalties of 6 to 7 per cent. (Today in a number of other countries in Europe the state share can be anything from 55 per cent up to 79 per cent.)
    This campaign was gaining influence within the trade unions and had been pushing the government to change policy. But because of the sectarian policies adopted by SFWP, they voted off every member of the campaign’s leading body who was not a member or supporter. The campaign collapsed shortly afterwards. Two of the leading figures within SFWP at that time were Éamonn Smullen and Una Claffey. (Smullen is dead; Claffey is now an adviser to Bertie Ahern.)
    Narrow sectarian party politics destroyed a very important campaign, which had the potential to change the direction of our country and its economic policies. That particular clique were committed to seeing the transnational corporations coming into Ireland as a “short cut” to building the working class and so destroying Irish gombeen capitalism and the small farmers. They also saw it as a battering ram with which to destroy Irish nationalism, which they saw as reactionary.
    When Fianna Fáil under Haughey came into government he appointed Ray Burke as minister responsible for natural resources in 1987. As we now know, this was a case of the fox looking after the hen-house. After lobbying by the oil and other exploration companies, Burke reduced the state’s 50 per cent share, and removed the payment of all royalties. Again in 1992, under the coalition government of Fianna Fáil and the PDs, the arch-free-marketer Bobby Molloy (then a member of the PDs) reduced the tax rate to 25 per cent, and 100 per cent tax write-offs were introduced. This also followed much lobbying by the corporations, with little or no resistance from the government.
    Today we are witnessing massive oil and gas price rises right across the world. At the same time the oil corporations are making vast profits. A number of factors are pushing up oil and gas prices, including the continuing instability in Iraq and the inability of imperialism to defeat the resistance there. The Arab world is increasingly unstable, and strong competition for these scarce resources is also coming now from China and India. The former Soviet republics in the south are new areas to be developed and exploited, but the surrounding regions are still very unstable.
    The greed of the corporations knows no limits and will only grow. And the reserves of the world’s largest producer, Saudi Arabia, are rapidly reaching a plateau and will soon begin to decline. Controlling these resources is one of the main factors in the aggressiveness and the growing instability of the imperialist bloc of the United States and the European Union.

Nationalise all natural resources!

It is clear that we need once again to begin to campaign for the nationalisation of all our natural resources, which are becoming increasingly scarce, both at home and globally. They must be brought under public ownership in order to see the most effective and efficient use made of them and to see that whatever benefits derive come to our people and do not contribute to the already bloated profits of foreign corporations.
    The establishment will say—and correctly so—that under EU rules you can’t nationalise them. But that is their problem. They have sold away our rights for their own class interest.

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